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Chief Minister announces consultation on Freedom of Information

Friday, 31 January 2014

Public consultation on a Freedom of Information (FOI) law for the Island will commence early next month, Chief Minister Allan Bell MHK announced today. 

The consultation on a draft Freedom of Information Bill will start on Monday February 10 and run for six weeks, he said. 

Mr Bell commented:

‘The progression of FOI is a significant step to underpin the operation of open government in the Isle of Man, building on the measures that are already in place to support transparency and accountability. 

‘But this is wide ranging and complex legislation with implications for the whole of the public sector. It is essential that we get this Bill right, so that it works effectively for the public without detriment to their services, and the consultation is all part of the process of giving it proper consideration.’  

Amongst other things, the Chief Minister explained, the consultation will help to clarify the estimated cost of FOI across Government, an important issue at a time of serious pressure on public spending. 

Even with a Freedom of Information law, he said, there will still be areas where legitimate confidentiality has to be protected, a principle recognised in FOI regimes around the world. As is the case in other countries there will be a number of exemptions, absolute or qualified, the latter category being subject to consideration of the public interest. 

The type and range of information available under FOI is expected to be similar to what is already obtainable under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, in place since 1996. Analysis of the available reports shows that over 17 years of its operation there have been eleven complaints of Government wrongly withholding information under the Code, four of which have been upheld. 

A key difference between Freedom of Information legislation and the Code of Practice is that FOI gives the public a legal right to access information, whereas the Code is non-statutory. 

The Chief Minister concluded:

‘The Council of Ministers remains committed to the promotion of open government but not at the expense of other things that are important to the public. The Bill going out to consultation will therefore seek to strike a balance between openness, legitimate confidentiality and what the Island can realistically afford.’  

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