FOI complexity ‘can be costly’
One of the architects of the Freedom of Information Act has told Civil Service World that this “very radical policy” is “capable of being expensive and burdensome”, and suggested that the rules governing disclosure require departments to make very complex – and thus expensive – decisions.
Rowena Collins Rice, the director general of the Attorney General’s Office, told CSW that the Act is “radical because there is very little ground between that which must be disclosed and that which must not. There is little ground for the ‘maybe’, which makes some decisions hard and uncomfortable and difficult.”
Collins Rice, who helped produce and implement the Act in 2000 whilst working at the then-Department for Constitutional Affairs, explained that some of the exemptions allowing departments to withhold internal policy advice “are dependent not on the nature of advice, but on the question of what harm would be done [by its publication]. These are difficult to evaluate, and it’s that rather effortful mental process of evaluating what would happen if I gave this out that feels like quite a difficult administrative burden for government.”
As a result, she said, “I have a lot of sympathy with this sense of burdensomeness in departments… And maybe if we were doing a Freedom of Information Act now it would look very different.”
Asked how the Act could be made less burdensome, she replied: “If you’re starting with a blank piece of paper you could have more absolute exemptions, different fees and charging systems, a lower cost limit, a different oversight method. There are all sorts of things you can do.”
See more: Full interview with Rowena Collins Rice