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Info Commissioner to crack down on FOI shirkers

Commissioner limbers up for July review

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The IC will make up for its limited powers by using its authority to reject or approve publication schemes during the next major review of schemes beginning in July 2006.

"We can't say, you've got to have this class of information. But what we can do is say we expect to see a class of information," said Monaghan.

"If you don't give us a robust reply, we could not approve [your publication scheme]. If you can't give us a damn good reason, you've got to put it in," she warned.

The good cop approach so far taken by the IC has been indicative of its sympathy for the learning process publication sector organisations have gone through in their implementation of FOI law. However, Monaghan said, the IC will now be getting tough with FOI shirkers and raising its expectations of all.

"We [initially] told authorities we want four wheels and an engine, but next time round we will want air conditioning," said Monaghan.

In trying the bad cop act on for size, the IC is indicating its growing confidence. The review is also assessing the IC's response to complaints, which has been slow because it has been learning the ropes.

However, said Phil Boyd, deputy information commissioner: "The pace we will deal with complaints will pick up now we've got more experience."

The IC's attention to publication schemes has marked a difference in its approach to FOI from that taken in other countries. The UK's first Information Commissioner, Elizabeth France, noted the lacklustre approach FOI authorities in other countries had taken to publication schemes and vowed not to let them flounder in Britain.

The focus on publication schemes, perhaps the most significant aspect of France's legacy preserved since her 2002 departure, encourages organisations serving the public to act in the spirit of openness, rather than to the letter of the law.

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