Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Sophie Barnes

As a journalism student I regularly submit FOIs to local authorities and government-run bodies. These have included the Ministry of Justice, the London Probation Trust, Hammersmith and Fulham Council and Hackney Council.

My experience is characterised by substantial delays. My first FOI request to Hammersmith and Fulham Council was only dealt with 30 working days after I had submitted the request, and only after I had twice written to the Council to ascertain why there was a delay in receiving the information.

Every other request I have submitted has taken 20 working days minimum to arrive with me, and often does not fully answer the questions I have submitted. There have also been a number of occasions where I have been told that the information I have requested is exempt from public disclosure. I feel that the statutes of law that are cited as reason for exemption are sometimes vague and can be used as an excuse not to reveal certain pieces of information that may not paint certain authorities in a good light.

I think that, in principle, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is a welcome development to improving transparency in our democratic society. But in practice the process is inefficient, secretive and ultimately frustrates the democratic process more than aiding it.

December 2011

Prepared 25th July 2012