It certainly is time that the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act was updated since, far from allowing ordinary members of the public access to information, in many cases it is a bullet-proof vest protecting councils from answering questions put to them.
In my recent dealings with Perth and Kinross Council, I have been extremely frustrated by them hiding behind the current legislation, eg “The Act takes no account of the accuracy or correctness of the information held. If the information held by a council on a particular request is incorrect, the council is required to supply that information.”
If a member of the public feels that he or she has been misled by a council, or any other government body, therefore, it’s no good asking them for further information because the FOI allows them simply to repeat the misinformation.
Similarly, FOI questions must be very precisely phrased: “Questions put to the council in the form of ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what if’ are unlikely to result in the satisfactory issue of information to a requestor.”
I have taught English for many years and have always believed that these words are recognised as those which introduce questions: not so, however, for anyone placing an FOI request.
As far as I can ascertain, there is no do/don’t guideline attached to FOI requests, so a “requestor” runs the very real risk of finding himself or herself in a Catch 22 position: heads a council wins, tails the requestor loses.
Does this respect the spirit of the act? Is this open government?