Under section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 2014 (the “FOI Act”) FOI bodies are required to prepare and publish a publication scheme detailing the manner in which information will pro-actively be made publicly available. On 14 October 2015 the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform launched a Model Publication Scheme. The Minister also published related Guidance which provides an explanation of the different types of information that must be published and how it should be published and maintained. The Model Publication Scheme and associated Guidance can be viewed here.
One of the purposes of the Model Publication Scheme is to ensure consistency in the publication of information by FOI bodies. As such, the Model Publication Scheme stipulates not only what information must be included in an FOI body’s publication scheme, but also the format in which it must be presented. Although FOI bodies may include additional information in their publication schemes, the Model Publication Scheme establishes the minimum requirements.
FOI bodies have until 14 April 2016 to prepare and publish their own publication schemes which must cover the classes of information required in the Model Publication Scheme. If a scheme does not conform to the Model Publication Scheme, the relevant FOI body will be in breach of the FOI Act. Thus it is important that FOI bodies become familiar with the requirements set out in the Model Publication Scheme and Guidance and publish their own scheme in good time before 14 April 2016.
Preparing a Publication Scheme
The FOI Act requires an FOI body, in preparing a publication scheme, to have regard to the public interest in:
- allowing the public access to information held by it;
- the publication of reasons for decisions it has made; and
- publishing information of relevance or interest to the general public in relation to its activities and functions generally.
The Model Publication Scheme and Guidance requires information contained in the publication scheme to be published under the following headings:
- Information about the FOI body;
- Services provided or to be provided to the Public;
- Decision making process for major policy proposals;
- Financial information;
- Procurement; and
- FOI Disclosure Log and Other Information to be Published Routinely.
An FOI body may identify items as being “not applicable” in their publication scheme where:
- the body does not hold the type of records concerned;
- the body is only subject to FOI in part and the type of records listed in the scheme are exempt; or
- the information is covered by an exemption under the FOI Act or by some other statute, licence or regulatory decision.
Publication and availability
FOI bodies must publish their schemes on their website in the required format. The Guidance recommends that a link to the scheme be available on the home page and on the relevant areas of the website, such as in an About Us section or a Publications section.
The FOI Body should also retain a hard copy of the basic scheme at its Head Office which must be available for the public to view, within working hours, at 24 hours’ notice.
The Guidance provides that each FOI body should review and revise its publication scheme every three years and the material published under the scheme should be reviewed and updated annually. Where information relates to procurement or purchase order spends this information should be updated quarterly.
FOI bodies should be mindful that the Information Commissioner may examine and report on the extent to which FOI bodies are in compliance with the FOI Act.