Govt planning freedom of information crackdown

Ministers are planning a crackdown on Britain’s freedom of information laws in a move critics say could have “severe consequences” for the right to know.

The FT reports justice secretary Michael Gove is considering making it more difficult to obtain information from government bodies.

The plans include allowing officials to include “thinking time” when calculating how much it costs to retrieve information, and to make it easier for ministers to veto publication of certain documents.

Another option under consideration is to change the way the cost of finding information is calculated so that officials can more readily turn down requests.

UK Campaign for Freedom of Information director Maurice Frankel warns that freedom of information is “coming under a two-pronged attack”.

He says: “Many of the proposals . . . could have severe consequences for the right to know.”

At the moment, citizens can ask for information as long as finding it does not cost more than £600 for a government department, or £450 for another public body.

The FCA and the Financial Ombudsman Service are both covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

But the Government has suggested either lowering the cost limit or including extra items, such as time spent on “considering and redacting” any releases.

Campaigners say doing so would make it much easier to refuse a request on cost grounds.

Earlier this year the Government lost its legal battle to prevent publication of Prince Charles’ correspondence with ministers after they were requested under the FoI Act by the Guardian.

The ministry of justice says: “The Government is carefully considering the implications of the Supreme Court decision in the Prince of Wales case.

“Any changes to the FOI Act will be considered by ministers in due course.”