The Island’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Act comes into effect on Monday (February 1, 2016) in a phased implementation starting with the Cabinet Office and the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture.
Guidance to the public on how to make FOI requests to the two Departments will be available on a dedicated web page which will also go live on Monday.
Chief Minister Allan Bell MHK said:
‘The first of February 2016 will see a significant enhancement of democracy in the Isle of Man. For the first time residents will be able to exercise a legal right to be given information held by public authorities.
‘The implementation of the FOI Act delivers on this administration’s pledge to strengthen the operation of open government, building on the measures that are already in place to support transparency and accountability.’
To manage the impact on public resources, the Act does not apply retrospectively beyond the start of the current administration in October 2011, can only be used by Isle of Man residents, and its introduction is being phased.
After being piloted with the Cabinet Office and DEFA, the regime will be extended in stages over the next two years to other Departments and all public authorities, including local authorities, so that the Act is due to be fully in force by January 2018.
In the meantime the public can still obtain information from all areas of Government under the non-statutory Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, which has been in place since 1996 and will be retained alongside the FOI regime to cover requests that fall outside its scope.
The Act enshrines in law the right of Island residents to gain access to information held by public authorities, as named in the legislation.
As is the case with FOI regimes elsewhere, there are a range of exemptions to protect legitimate confidentiality, for example to prevent harm to businesses. There are two types of exemptions, ‘absolute’ and ‘qualified’, the latter being subject to a public interest test.
The operation of the Act will be overseen by the independent Information Commissioner who is also responsible for regulating the Data Protection Act, the Unsolicited Communications Regulations and from 1 February the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.
The Freedom of Information Act received Royal Assent in June 2015 having been passed by the branches of Tynwald following public consultation.