FOIMan’s latest article for PDP’s Freedom of Information Journal takes a detailed look at the Isle of Man’s new FOI Act and considers whether there is anything that other jurisdictions can learn from it.
As reported here at the end of January, the Isle of Man’s new FOI law has come partially into force. For the first time, Manx residents – but only Manx residents – are able to make FOI requests to government departments there.
Every time that a country is added to the list of nations that have adopted freedom of information laws, it has the opportunity to learn from those that have gone before. Given its closeness to our shores, have those drafting the Isle of Man’s new open government rules been influenced by events here? Perhaps even more interesting, following the FOI Commission’s report, are there things that the UK government can learn from its neighbour?
These are questions I’ve considered in my latest long-read piece for PDP’s Freedom of Information Journal. As you’ll see, the challenges that the Isle of Man faces have shaped its legislation and resulted in some interesting innovations.
FOIMan highlights the arrival of freedom of information to the Isle of Man.
Tynwald Hill, where the Isle of Man’s laws are annually proclaimed to the people in an open government tradition dating back a millennium
Monday, 1 February, is a big day for a small country in the British Isles. The Isle of Man’s Freedom of Information Act received Royal Assent last year and the first requests under it will be made on Monday. At first only the Cabinet Office and the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFA) will have a duty to respond to them, but by January 2018 all public bodies on the Island will have to do so.
Unless you are one of the 85,000 or so who live on the Island you won’t be able to make requests – one of the mechanisms designed to prevent FOI disrupting the provision of services by a relatively small public service. But Islanders will for the first time have a statutory right to information, and existing openness provisions, including the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, which was introduced in 1996, will remain in place.
Despite the fact that most of us won’t directly benefit from this new right of access, any new piece of FOI legislation is a cause for celebration, and the Isle of Man’s law contains some interesting innovations which I’ll be examining in a forthcoming article. Whilst the FOI Commission continues to scrutinise the UK Act, it is interesting to look at how other jurisdictions tackle the concerns (however reasonable or otherwise we may consider them) that the Government here has raised. The very existence of the FOI Commission has influenced debate in the Isle of Man and no doubt elsewhere.
I’ve provided some assistance to the Isle of Man Government culminating most recently in the delivery of training to Cabinet Office and DEFA staff. Earlier this week I was asked to take part in briefings to the Island’s media and you can hear Manx Radio and 3FM‘s reports, and watch an interview with me for Manx.net to get a sense of what FOI might mean for the Isle of Man.
FOIMan highlights forthcoming new FOI laws in Crown Dependencies.
Soon you’ll be able to request information about Jim Bergerac’s investigations
There are states very near our shores here in the UK that have yet to implement a Freedom of Information Act. A couple of those – Jersey in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man – are in the process of putting that right.
First, a little bit of constitutional detail. Contrary to what many may think, these states are not part of the United Kingdom. They are closely related as they share our Head of State (I rather like the fact that according to Wikipedia – only the best sources for this blog – the Queen in fact rules Jersey in her capacity as Duke of Normandy, and hope I won’t be corrected on that).
So if they are to be subject to FOI laws, they need to enact their own legislation. The State of Jersey has already done so. Their Act was passed in 2011, and it is planned that it will come into force at the start of 2015. Perhaps surprisingly, it is already being amended – to strengthen the ability of the Jersey authorities to refuse requests on cost grounds and to allow Jersey’s highest court to overturn decisions of the Jersey Information Commissioner. One of the features that stands out to me about the 2011 law is the requirement at s.7 to prepare an index of information that is held – there is a real emphasis on records management in this legislation. How effectively that provision has been implemented will be something to watch out for in 2015.
Meanwhile, the Isle of Man government has just completed a consultation on a new Freedom of Information Bill. The Isle has had a Code of Practice on Access to Information in place for some time, which appears to have been successful in developing transparency on the island. The new Bill is badged as merely formalising existing arrangements and bringing them into line with nearby territories.
As the Jersey amendment highlights, the greatest concerns of those introducing new FOI legislation are around the cost. It is understandable that any government about to impose significant new obligations on itself will hold concerns about the cost of implementation. As the UK experience has shown, until FOI is in force, it is difficult to be sure what the impact will be. And as we know, the UK government is itself about to consult on potential amendments to FOI cost limits. Let’s hope these fears don’t lead to these fledgeling openness laws having their wings clipped from the start.
Photograph by Dave Conner [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.