The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides statutory rights for those requesting information together with a strong enforcement regime. A copy of the Act is available from the HMSO Website. A copy of the explanatory notes published with the Act is also available on their site.
Under the terms of the Act, any member of the public can apply for access to information held by bodies across the public sector, including Parliament, Government departments, local authorities, health trusts, doctors’ surgeries, publicly funded museums and many other organisations. The main features of the Act are:
A general right of access to information held by public authorities in the course of carrying out their public functions, subject to certain conditions and exemptions;
In most cases where information is exempt from disclosure there is a duty on public authorities to disclose where, in the view of the public authority, the public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in maintaining the exemption in question;
A new office of Information Commissioner and a new Information Tribunal, with wide powers to enforce the rights created;
A duty imposed on public authorities to adopt a scheme for the publication of information. The scheme, which must be approved by the Commissioner, will specify the classes of information the authority intends to publish, the manner of publication and whether the information is available to the public free of charge or on payment of a fee.