Can Freedom of information help protect your families health?

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force at the beginning of 2005 and grants access to official information held by public bodies, including the St Mark’s Academic Institute.

Under the Act, individuals or organisations have the right to request information held by a public authority. They can do this by letter or email. The public authority must tell the applicant whether it holds the information, and must normally supply it within 20 working days, in the format requested.

However, the public authority does not have to confirm or deny the existence of the information or provide it if an exemption applies, the request is vexatious or similar to a previous request, or if the cost of compliance exceeds an appropriate limit. If exemption applies, but is qualified, this means that the public authority must decide whether the public interest in using the exemption outweighs the public interest in releasing the information.

If an applicant is unhappy with a refusal to disclose information, they can complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), after first exhausting any internal review procedure. The ICO will investigate the case and either uphold the authority’s use of an exemption or decide that the information must be disclosed.

Information must also be published through the public authority’s publication scheme and is a commitment by a public authority to make certain information available, and a guide on how to get it.

The Act is fully retrospective and applies to all information, not just information filed since the Act came into force.

Environmental Information Regulations

Parallel regulations deal with environmental information and give members of the public the right to access environmental information held by public authorities. The request can be made by letter, email, telephone or in person.

Data Protection Act 1998

Regulations also exist with regard to the Data Protection Act 1998 which gives individuals the right to know what information is held about them. It provides a framework to ensure that personal information is handled properly.

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