The government has published its response to the post-legislative review of the Freedom of Information Act. A number of the recommendations of the Justice Committee have been accepted, but there is a sense of the bureaucracy trying to move as little as possible. For example on the issue of offences under the FOI Act being all but non-prosecutable because of the time delays involved, the government says this:
The Government accepts the conclusion of the Select Committee that the current provisions under section 77 are insufficient to allow the Information Commissioner’s Office sufficient time to bring a prosecution where appropriate. However, the Government does not consider it necessary that cases under section 77 are heard by the Crown Court, nor that the existing penalties are insufficient in being an effective deterrent to misconduct. To address the problem, the Government is instead minded to extend the time available to the ICO to bring a prosecution to six months from the point at which it becomes aware of the commission of an offence rather than six months from the point at which such an offence occurs. This change will address the core problem of insufficient time available to bring a prosecution without an excessive response of making the offence triable either way [i.e. in the Magistrates' courts or the Crown Court].
The whole document is quite interesting. For example, it looks as if we will have a new exemption for pre-publication research. This is one to watch closely - would repeated claims of "I'm going to use it again" be possible?
Of equal concern is the possible introduction of fees at the Information Tribunal. This last one is interesting, since it was not actually an idea that was considered by the Justice Committee. Apparently the government (or their civil servants) have introduced the idea on their own initiative.
And it is unequivocally a bad idea. It would allow the bureaucracy to use the full resources of the state to crush FOI requesters - they would simply have to appeal their way as far as the Tribunal at which point the financial burden would put most requesters off. More work to do.