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ICO, Campaign for FOI, FOIman and Tim Turner to speak at FOIA seminar

The Freedom of Information Act will be reformed following a Ministry of Justice Select Committee review of the legislation. But how will it change and what does this mean for the journalists and campaigners who use the act? Join Request Initiative at City University as it welcomes a distinguished panel of FOIA and information law experts, including the ICO’s deputy commissioner Graham Smith, to discuss the report and what it means for requesters.

The event is organised by Request Initiative and City University and will be an excellent opportunity to get up to speed on what the changes to FOIA mean and a chance to meet professionals in FOIA, media and charity sectors.

Book your ticket now.

Post-legislative scrutiny

In its first seven years FOIA was central to some of the biggest stories of the decade. The MPs expenses, revelations about oil companies and the Iraq war and “Climate-gate” could not have happened without the law. The act’s importance to all journalists is clear; in the last month more than 900 articles containing “freedom of information” have been published in the UK.

Prior to the review, FOIA professionals had well-founded concern that the government now feared the act and would seek to curb its power through new exemptions, time extensions or a fee-paying system. These fears appear to have been allayed, with the committee rejecting such proposals and concluding that FOIA “remains a vital element of the transparency agenda”. Instead the committee recommends, among other things, that:

  • time limits for requests and appeals should be tightened
  • authorities should publish their compliance records online and suggests
  • harsher penalties should be introduced for authorities that destroy information illegally.

The review seems to be good news for FOIA requesters. But can journalists and campaigners look forward to a new dawn of transparency? Probably not.

The committee failed to make a strong statement on the application of the law to private companies like G4S and Serco who are contracted by the public sector. The committee also effectively endorsed the use of the controversial ministerial veto to withhold highly sensitive information. And the review proposes measures that will hinder transparency, such as a reduction in the time authorities are required to spend processing requests.

City University and Request Initiative welcome a panel of information law experts who will unpack the report and consider its merits and drawbacks in detail before an audience of media, charity and legal professionals and students. Drinks and light refreshments will be served afterwards.

The panel

The panel includes the ICO’s Director of Freedom of Information and Deputy Information Commissioner Graham Smith, the Campaign for Freedom of Information director Maurice Frankel information rights professional and blogger FOIman, Data Protection expert Tim Turner and Request Initiative’s executive director Brendan Montague. It will be chaired by Linda Lewis, course director of City University’s journalism department.

For more on our speakers, click here.

Graham Smith is Deputy Commissioner and Director of Freedom of Information for the Information Commissioner’s Office. Prior to his appointment as Deputy Commissioner in 2001, Graham enjoyed a career in local government, working for four local authorities over 20 years. He holds a law degree from the University of Sheffield and a Diploma in Local Government Law and Practice.

Maurice Frankel has worked with the Campaign for Freedom of Information since it was set up in 1984, and has been its director since 1987. He has been closely involved with the Freedom of Information Act since its inception, in seeking to persuade the government to legislate, in pressing for improvements to the bill during its Parliamentary passage and subsequently in training both public authority staff and potential users.

Tim Turner’s career in Information Rights started at the Information Commissioner’s Office as a Policy Manager on FOI issues, just after the 2000 FOI Act was passed. He worked with central and local government, wrote guidance and policies for the Commissioner and was a regular speaker at conferences and events. Tim was DP & FOI Officer for two top-rated councils as well an Information Governance advisor for an NHS organisation.

Paul Gibbons, aka FOIman, is an information rights professional and author of the popular blog FOIman.com. He has been working in FOI, directly or indirectly, for over 10 years and before that he was a records manager in the public and private sectors. Paul was a member of the Save FOI campaign that mobilised during the MOJ’s post legislative review of the act.

Brendan Montague, executive director of Request Initiative, is an investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience working for newspapers including The Sunday Times, The Mail on Sunday and The Daily Mail. Brendan is described by The Times as a “freedom of information expert” and has used FoIA to substantiate environmental and political stories.

Request Initiative

Request Initiative is a non-profit community interest company which makes requests under transparency legislation on behalf of charities, NGOs and non-profits. The company also provides support for researchers and journalists wishing to make better use of the Freedom of Information Act, Environmental Information Regulations and Data Protection Act and conducts its own public interest research. Request Initiative events have been attended, in a personal capacity, by:

  • Journalists from the BBC, the Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian and the People
  • Campaigners from Shelter, World Development Movement, War on Want, Friends of the Earth, Platform, Access Info Europe, My Society
  • Representatives from the Information Commissioner’s Office, barristers at leading information law firm 11KBW, as well as information rights professionals and FOIA officers from several public bodies

Location: Room B103 in the University Building,

City University,

Northampton Square,

London   EC1V 0HB

Detailed map: http://www.city.ac.uk/visit#9609=1

Time and Date: 6pm for a 6:15 start, 9th October 2012

Tickets: Admission is free but reservation is required here

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