Thursday 28 May 2009

FoI likely to extend to all things connected to the state

Private contractors are likely to get little warning of the extension of freedom of information law to cover companies carrying out functions on behalf of public authorities, legal experts have warned.

The impending extension of FoI was revealed by Michael Wills, the justice minister, on 13 May at a conference organised by the Information Commissioner's Office.

Wills told the event that the outcome of a consultation, expected in July, would be "an extension of FoI". This is likely to cover organisations such as academy schools and providers of contracted-out services, including IT partners.

Marcus Turle, partner at City law firm, Field Fisher Waterhouse, said that the extension would mark a "fundamental shift in principles" but could be implemented in weeks, if the government wants. After the publication of the consultation response, the next step is likely to be specifying which bodies will fall within the new rules, he said.

The cost of compliance could be significant, Turle said, and he warned against assumptions that private businesses would be able to "ring fence" some of their records. "You couldn't very easily set up another company to hold records you don't want people to see - the rules clearly state that records held by a third party are subject to the act."