Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Chris Boocock

1. Does the Freedom of Information Act work effectively?

2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Freedom of Information Act?

3. Is the Freedom of Information Act operating in the way that it was intended to?

I write having personally used FOI requests in two specific cases and having played a small part in a successful campaign which relied on FOI requests.

These were:

(i)Objecting to a local authority promoted SEN school development; and

(ii)a local authority proposal to remove a high quality cycle facilty.

(iii)Supporting a campaign group resisting PCT proposals to downgrade our local hospital.

In the first case the Local Authority pushed their proposal through against significant local opinion (127 written objections) and I believe the only way this could have been challenged would have been by using the Judicial Review process. However the timetable that the LA were working to meant that the window of opportunity for this was very small. The FOI responses were not delivered within the legally required timescales and this played a significant part in the opportunity for Judicial Review being missed.

Similarly in the second case the FOI reponses were not delivered within the required timescales, nor was the Internal Review that I requested. The FOI requests did show that public statements made on the matter were inaccurate and misleading. In the event the proposals were not supported by the majority of the Council so this additional information was not pivotal.

In the third case the campaign group put together a comprehensive and fully referenced rebuttal of the PCT’s case which, in my opinion, showed that the proposals were fundamentally flawed and unworkable. This campaign resulted in a very significant change of heart by the PCT, securing the future of our hospital.

As a result of the above experiences I wish to make the following points:

1.FOI is an essential part of a functioning democracy. Without access to information one cannot engage in decision making or policy formulation.

2.I do not understand why FOI requests are not met in a responsive and timely manner. In the digital age sending documents is a simple click of a button. IMO there is no excuse for missing deadlines for responses.

3.I think that the Act should be strengthened such that Public Bodies are obliged to treat information as normally and immediately available to the public.

4.I think that there should be clarity over penalties for breaching the Act and that the Statute of Limitations of six months is totally inadequate. In the timescales of these matters, and some of the decisions at stake, I think seven years would be more appropriate.

February 2012

Prepared 25th July 2012