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Freedom of information and the public interest: a discussion

Tomorrow evening Request Initiative will host a roundtable discussion on the public interest and FoIA led by barrister, information law specialist and member of our board Robin Hopkins.

Robin advises the Information Commissioner’s Office, local authorities and other public bodies on policy changes, consultations and equalities duties. He co-edits the Information Law Reports and Panopticon, a leading information law blog, and is on the editorial board of the Freedom of Information Journal and of the Law Society’s Freedom of Information Handbook (2012 edition).

Public interest tests apply to two thirds of the exemptions in the FoIA and every exception in the EIR. But the public interest is not clearly defined anywhere in UK law. What is meant by the public interest?

Campaigners and journalists argue open government and transparency prevent corruption and bad practice. Therefore, the public interest is served by publishing information that exposes wrongdoing and waste.

However public bodies reason that transparency can impede the function of government and have a “chilling effect” on free and frank discussions. Therefore it is often in the public’s interest for meetings to take place in private, behind closed doors. Nick Clegg said that publishing the NHS risk register would reduce civil servants’ ability to provide “frank and fearless” advice to ministers.

Request Initiative board member and barrister Robin Hopkins will lead a discussion that addresses some key issues around the public interest. How do different organisations understand the concept? Why can’t civil servants provide frank and fearless advice to the public? How can campaigners and journalists deploy public interest arguments most effectively? What are the legal precedents that can help us understand the public interest as it is applied in the UK?

Request looks forward to welcoming back an audience of informed FoIA professionals, journalists, campaigners and students for what promises to be its best event of the year for so far.

Tickets are free but registration is required. Please use this link: http://publicinterestandfoia.eventbrite.co.uk/.

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