Timetable for freedom of information act

The government announced a timetable for implementation of the
Freedom of Information Act 2000 in England and Wales on 13 November
2001, but only for publication schemes. Under the act all public
authorities are required to adopt maintain and review a publication
scheme setting out the information they will release to the

The scheme must have the approval of the information
commissioner and must specify the classes of information the
authority intends to publish, the manner of publication and whether
the information is available free of charge or on payment of a fee.
The timetable for production of the publication schemes is:

November 2002: Central government (except the Crown Prosecution
Service and Serious Fraud Office), Parliament, National Assembly
for Wales, non-departmental public bodies currently subject to the
code of practice on access to government information

February 2003: Local authorities (except police authorities)

June 2003: Police, police authorities, Crown Prosecution
Service, Serious Fraud Office, armed forces

October 2003: Health service

February 2004: Schools, universities, remaining non-departmental
public bodies

June 2004: All remaining public bodies

The remainder of the act, setting out how individual requests
will be dealt with, will not now be implemented until January

The Northern Ireland Assembly is considering separate freedom of
information legislation, but at present public authorities in the
province are required to implement publication schemes at the same
time as in England and Wales. The Scottish parliament is currently
considering separate freedom of information legislation introduced
by the Scottish executive

It is important to remember that the act covers all existing
information held by public authorities. Public authorities need to
consider now whether their contract clauses are adequate under the
act, and in particular whether their existing confidentiality
arrangements need to be varied or amended.

This is a complex area as the draft guidance issued by the
government says: “When entering into contracts public authorities
should refuse to include contractual terms which purport to
restrict the disclosure of information held by the authority and
relating to the contract beyond the restrictions permitted by the
act. Public authorities should not agree to hold information ‘in
confidence’ which is not in fact confidential in nature.”

The draft guidance goes on to say: “When entering into contracts
with non-public authority contractors, public authorities may be
under pressure to accept confidentiality clauses so that
information relating to the terms of the contract, its value and
performance will be exempt from disclosure. Public authorities
should not accept such clauses where this is commercially viable.
Any acceptance of such confidentiality provisions must be for good
reasons and capable of being justified to the (Information)

In a field as complex as health and social services, where
contracts are entered into on a daily basis, which use
“confidential” information, there is a necessity for legal advice,
as all parties should appreciate that this act will encompass all
information “held” by a public authority.

Bernadette Livesey

Human Rights Solicitor

Walker Morris 


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