Friday, 4 March 2011

The Freedom Of Information (Amendment) Bill 2010-11- The Flint Axe

Dry as dust I know but if you read Heather  Brooke's  The Silent State, you will know that Parliament having passed the FOI Act in a rare moment of  principle, government and officials in particular loathe and detest this legislation.

The Telegraph finally got the scoop and hard evidence, but it was Heather who did the donkey work to expose The Speaker of the House of Commons and the English Collective of MP's ripping off the public with their expenses, using FOI.

Chris Mullin in his aptly named diaries Decline and Fall gives the MP's attitude towards the Act in an entry for 2nd April 2007.

The Treasury has been forced under the Freedom of Information Act (another of our liberal reforms comes back to bite us) to disclose the the advice offered by officials at the time..........To compound our difficulty Ed Balls has foolishly claimed, without the slightest evidence, that the move was supported by the CBI, which triggered indignant denials and only served to add fuel to the fire. All very damaging.

The principle provision is to

A Bill to amend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to remove provisions permitting Ministers to overrule decisions of the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal; to limit the time allowed for public authorities to respond to requests involving consideration of the public interest; to amend the definition of public authorities; and for connected purposes.

This is something I have been watching like a hawk since serving Business,Innovation and Enterprise with a notice under the Act in relation to a court case I have been involved with since the dawn of time on 13th October 2009.

This is back before Parliament on the 18th March, and it is the 'connected purposes' bit I am worried about.

Remember it was this Act that deposed the Speaker, for the first time in three hundred and fifty years, and is the primary cause of sending a raft of MP's to jail. So do not expect them to be sympathetic to any changes that make government more accountable, especially not Ministers.

In my case I served the FOI request on Mandelson's office in October 2009, they responded with a trickle of about thirteen heavily redacted emails they held on me. The Act states that they need to take no more than forty days. They did not bother with those annoying timescales and I received what Mandelson's office was prepared to give me late. It was fairly obvious that there was more material they were withholding.

A complaint was made to the Information Commissioner who upheld my complaint and instructed BIS to comply on September 22nd 2010. They responded in October to myself and the Information Commissioner that this data did not exist. By now I had direct evidence that it did exist from an insider.

In October 2010, I made an application in the High Court in Bristol under sec 7(9) Data Protection Act with the blessing of the Information Commissioner. The Treasury Solicitor decided to defend the action, I was served with a witness statement with a statement of truth that the data did not exist.

The hearing was set for January 28th 2011, two days before the hearing the Treasury Solicitor wrote to the Court saying something along the lines of whoops we have found something (no kidding), please can we adjourn. Then bundles of documents on me started arriving, the last on the 2nd March, not bad considering that according to the witness statement, 'simply does not exist'.

I will not bore you with the details, but here is a secret government suppresses evidence in court cases, it tells bare face lies about you and seeks to mislead elected government ministers and MP's.

I now have another application lodged (£75 at time) to introduce this evidence that has been suppressed for nearly eighteen months. THe written evidence from the Treasury Solicitor is that they did not start search Mandelson's Private Office until the 24th January 2011, when they were served with a forty day notice in 2009.

Parliament has handed the public a flint axe in the FOI Act and another in the Data Protection Act against their laser guided missles and vast treasury. Use it, keep it and keep hitting the state with your flint axe, Heather Brooke did, and I have.
It works.

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