Freedom of information in the United Kingdom

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Freedom of information legislation in the United Kingdom is controlled by two Acts of the United Kingdom and Scottish Parliaments respectively, which both came into force on 1 January 2005.

Certain information can only be obtained under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

As many public bodies in Scotland (for example, educational bodies) are controlled by the Scottish Parliament, the 2000 Act would not apply to them, and thus a second Act of the Scottish Parliament was required. The acts are very similar but not identical[1] - the types of public bodies covered in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are also covered in Scotland - and the requirements are similar, though the Scottish Act has slightly stronger phrasing in favour of disclosing information.

The 2000 Act does not extend to public bodies in the overseas territories or crown dependencies. Some of these have contemplated implementing their own legislation, though none is currently in force.


FOI legislation in the UK is the result of a series of incremental reforms. The 1966 Fulton report recommended the elimination of 'unnecessary secrecy.' The 1974 Labour manifesto promised a future FOI Act and the repeal of the 1911 Official Secrets Act.

In 1977, a draft "Freedom of Information and Privacy Bill" was circulated; this was shorter and simpler than the later Acts, and also included privacy legislation. Later versions were occasionally suggested by opposition parties, and it became a manifesto commitment for the Labour Party at the 1997 general election.[2] This promised to introduce some form of freedom of information legislation in line with other western nations.

A schedule for compliance was arranged at the time of the 2000 Act, and then for the 2002 Act, with timescales arranged so that both would come into full force on the same date - 1 January 2005. This reduced confusion and ambiguities, but the delay in passing an Act in Scotland pushed back the final implementation by some time. As a result, a manifesto promise from the 1997 election was finally fulfilled just in time for the 2005 election.

In 2007, the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill was introduced as a private members bill in the House of the Commons by the Conservative MP David Maclean. The bill proposed to exempt MPs and Peers from the provisions of the 2000 Act, but whilst it successfully completed its passage in the Commons,[3] it failed to progress through the House of Lords after failing to find a sponsor.[4]

In 2020, Scottish Government moves to include restrictions on Freedom of Information laws as part of Covid-19 emergency legislation proved controversial and were eventually rolled back after strong cross party opposition.[5]

In 2020, the openDemocracy website published a report on the FOI Clearing House. The report described the Clearing House as "Orwellian" and found that it requires government departments to send it requests that are potentially sensitive or too expensive to answer. The report also found that the Clearing House sometimes requires departments to provide it with drafts of responses to FOI requests for vetting. According to the report, government ministers were hindering FOI requests in "disturbing" ways and the number of FOI requests granted by departments had decreased. The Cabinet Office said the Clearing House was designed to "ensur[e] there is a standard approach across government in the way we consider and respond to requests".[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002". Information Commissioner for Scotland. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  2. ^ "new Labour because Britain deserves better". The UK Labour Party. Archived from the original on 31 July 2008. Retrieved 10 February 2015.
  3. ^ Houses of Parliament - Public Bills - Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2006-07
  4. ^ The Guardian - Bill curbing FoI fails to find sponsor in Lords
  5. ^ James, McEnaney. "Health minister wanted to stop FOI during Covid-19". Retrieved 2021-03-12.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ Evans, Rob (24 November 2020). "'Orwellian' government unit obstructs freedom of information, says report". the Guardian. Retrieved 14 October 2021.

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