The FOI Act 1997 stated that the Information Commissioner shall encourage public bodies to publish information about themselves, in relation to their activities and functions, that is of interest to the general public. This is in addition to the information which they are required to publish under section 15 (information about their structure and records held by them) and section 16 (rules procedures guidelines and interpretations which they use for the administration of their business and schemes).
NB: The section 16 manual is no longer applicable and has been replaced by a Procedures Manual
Through annual reports, commentaries and investigation reports, the Commissioner highlights the need for openness and transparency in all activities of public bodies. There is no doubt that the information now available about the public service is dramatically different to that of 10 years ago. This is due in no small part to the impact of FOI within the context of the overall modernisation of the public service. The role of web-based technologies also has been crucial to information sharing but there is still room for improvement. The question public servants should be asking themselves when requested to release information is "why not?", instead of "why?".
The Commissioner encourages public bodies, where appropriate, to release information outside of the FOI Act. The procedures laid out in the Act are quite detailed, and necessarily so, in order to protect the interests of public bodies, requesters and third parties alike. But when relatively straightforward requests for non-sensitive information are received, the Commissioner exhorts public bodies to process them through the usual administrative channels without the need to put requesters through the rigours of the FOI Act.
In fostering openness the Commissioner and his staff give presentations to various groupings within and beyond the public service. This serves to increase awareness and usage of the legislation and to highlight the benefits to good government of an open and accountable public service.
Notice for Public (FOI) Bodies
On Tuesday 3 June 2014, the Office introduced a number of changes to its review processes, some of which affect the manner in which the Office engages with FOI bodies during reviews.
All FOI bodies, at that time, received details of the range of changes being introduced. Among other changes, the OIC introduced new response time requirements for the submission by FOI bodies of information required for the conduct of reviews. A summary of the various response requirements is set out in the table below.
|Information required||Response time expected|
|Decision Making Records||Within three working days|
|Subject records and accompanying schedule||Within two weeks|
|Submissions||Within two weeks|
If response times are not adhered to, the Commissioner will invoke his statutory powers under section 45 of the FOI Act to require production of the necessary information. Details of section 45 notifications issued are published in the Commissioner’s Annual Report each year. It should be noted that where an FOI body fails to make a submission on a review, the OIC may make a decision on the basis of the information available to it without further contact with the FOI body.
For further information, contact: Rosanne Meehan – 01 639 5729