Ben Worthy at UCL’s Constitution Unit just sent me the transcript of a speech about the UK Freedom of information Act Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer gave at the British Academy in February 2006, which makes reference to my Letters:
We have seen a vast number of requests to find out information about issues which really do add value to people’s lives, or to the sum of human knowledge, or to research. And making a positive contribution to the quality, accuracy and completeness of public debate. This is exactly why we brought in this legislation.
However, it is also true, inevitably, that this culture is being undermined by requests under the Act which arguably do not impact so positively – like what a central government department spends on toilet paper or make-up, or whether written proof can be provided under the Act of a Minister’s existence.
Responsible users of the Act and supporters of the legislation would surely agree that these sorts of requests are frivolous, and sometimes even vexatious, and that spending time answering them is not how public resources ought to be used.
The Information Commissioner has made his position abundantly clear. He has said that claims that are ‘manifestly unreasonable’ should be resisted under section 14 of the Act – claims which would serve no public good or impose substantial burdens on the financial and human resources of public authorities.
My department will be issuing guidance complementing that from the Information Commissioner, to help public authorities handle these types of requests.
I don’t believe this is a concern in terms of requests from the academic community – but it is a serious issue for the operation of Freedom of Information as a whole.