France overruled on early access to FoI for journalists

France: wanted access next year

Information Commissioner Elizabeth France wanted journalists to have the legal right of access to government information next year but was overruled by civil service mandarins.

The Lord Chancellor has publicly admitted that he was swayed by civil servants and ministers to delay the full introduction of the Freedom of Information Act for four years.

His disclosure will fuel the campaign by editors and others to persuade the Government to think again.

Lord Irvine angered editors last month by announcing the timetable for public bodies to issue publication schemes – listing the data they intend voluntarily to make available – but said individual right of access would not be allowed until January 2005.

Government departments and the National Assembly for Wales will lead the way next November, followed by local government (February 2003), police, police authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service, Serious Fraud Office and Armed Forces (June 2003), the Health Service in England and Wales (October 2003), schools, universities, remaining quangos (February 2004), and remaining public authorities (June 2004).

Now Lord Irvine has revealed that France wanted the individual right of access to be phased in alongside the other publication schemes.

He told the House of Lords: "She said that it would be sensible to implement the publication schemes and right of access provisions together on a phased timetable. Though I took into account the Information Commissioner’s views, I also had to take into account the views of those who will be implementing the Act in the public sector and those of ministerial colleagues."

By David Rose

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