Reporters and campaigners have been snapping up copies of a new guide to Freedom of Information stuffed with trade secrets published by The Centre for Investigative Journalism.
Brendan Montague and Lucas Amin, founders of the non-profit community interest company Request Initiative have authored a new introduction titled, “FOIA without the Lawyer” which is part of the Logan Handbooks series.
The team at Request has made more than 1,000 requests since it was founded in September 2011 and has built up an extensive network of lawyers, FOIA officers, charity campaigners and journalists.
“We decided to start with a blank sheet of paper and try and describe to journalists exactly how they could make a FOIA request and how they could themselves navigate the law and the available information to make their case as clearly and effectively as possible” Mr Montague said.
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 has resulted in the disclosure of important government information requested by journalists, lawyers and private individuals.
For example, through a series of requests the journalist Greg Muttitt managed to obtain documentary evidence that British Petrol was lobbying Tony Blair’s government for access to oil before the UK’s invasion of Iraq.
Tony Blair, under who’s premiership the Act was implemented, has famously attacked the legislation claiming it has been “utterly undermining of sensible government”.
While the act forces transparency it also includes twenty-three exemptions which the requester needs to be aware of and “it seems increasingly clear that government departments will misuse exemptions…and cause the most outrageous delays in order to befuddle and demoralize the requester to the point where they simply give up” Mr Montague added.
“FOIA without the Lawyer” gives a great introduction on how to avoid unnecessary rejections but also how to proceed after having received refusals and includes case studies and analysis of the information commissioners’ guidance.
The guide is a part of a series of publications funded and published by the Centre of Investigative Journalism which also includes Luuk Senger’s “The hidden scenario: plotting and outlining investigative stories”, which is an introduction to his investigative methodology of “story based enquiry”.