Bill Watch 40/2019 [The Freedom of Information Bill] 30 July 2019 High Court and set aside if it is procedurally flawed. Evaluation of the Bill Good points about the Bill The provisions of the Bill are certainly better than those of AIPPA which the Bill will replace, and will give members of the public greater access to information held by public bodies: More information will be accessible than is the case with AIPPA: for example parliamentary papers and information in the National Archives are excluded from the provisions of AIPPA but will be accessible under the Bill. The Bill may indeed have gone too far in this regard, as we shall point out later. Foreigners will be allowed access to information; this is currently denied them by section 5(3) of AIPPA. The time-limits within which public bodies must respond to requests for information will be shorter under the Bill (30 days as opposed to 60 days under AIPPA) and the Bill emphasises that responses should be given earlier if reasonably possible. It must also be said in the Bill’s favour that it will repeal AIPPA ‒ that is a welcome step in itself ‒ but the repeal may be premature as we shall indicate below. Problems, limitations and drawbacks While the Bill is a step in the right direction, it is only a limited step and some of its provisions will need rewording and refining: The Bill is concerned with access to information rather than with freedom of expression so its title is a bit misleading: as suggested above it should be called “the Access to Information Bill”. It is not clear to what extent the Bill will permit access to information held by private bodies, which may hold a great deal of information of legitimate interest to the public. Part III of the Bill deals only with access to information held by public bodies, not private ones, but clauses 22 and 24 set out circumstances in which private entities can refuse to allow access to their information. There is no provision requiring public bodies to publish information pro-actively, beyond a vague statement in clause 5 that public bodies must have written “information disclosure policies”. Clause 19 says that the Bill will not prevent or discourage public bodies from publishing information, but it does not encourage or compel them to do so. The Bill should put public bodies under an obligation to make information of general public interest automatically available in the interest of transparent and accountable government. The Bill imposes duties of disclosure on “holders of statutory office” but does not define what that term means. It would certainly cover the RegistrarGeneral, for example, but it may not cover constitutional office-holders such as the Commissioner-General of Police, the Commander of the Defence Forces and the Auditor-General.

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