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Saturday 10th
posted by Joana Ramiro in Britain

SUBMITTING Freedom of Information (FoI) requests could soon be a costly business after a commission set up by the Conservatives considers introducing a charge, it was announced yesterday.

In an anonymous leak to journalists, “sources” inside the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information said the possibility of bringing in fees was now on the table.

The commission is taking a wider look at the “burden” the Act places on public finances.

Commenting on the revelations, head of communications for human rights group Reprieve Donald Campbell said: “It is deeply worrying that the commission is proposing charging the public for information that they have a right to.

“Freedom of Information is a crucial tool for keeping our politicians honest and our government on the right track.

“It should be available to everyone without cost — these proposals would reduce it to being a toy for the wealthy and powerful.”

FoI requests were introduced in 2005 and are now under review after coming under attack by former justice secretary and commission member Jack Straw.

Commenting on the call for evidence, commission chair and Santander executive Lord Burns said: “Freedom of Information is an area of considerable public interest and we want to hear the views of as many people as possible, which is why we are announcing this public call for evidence.

“The commission is an independent body, with no pre-determined view, and is interested in gathering as much objective evidence as possible on the questions posed in the call for evidence.”

Lord Burns will be chairing a group of high-profile figures which includes Mr Straw along with former Conservative leader Lord Howard, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Dame Patricia Hodgson.

The panel has been criticised for not having any FoI campaigners as members and including Lib Dem barrister Lord Carlile, who openly supported higher levels of government secrecy in court.

Cabinet minsters’ veto on the publication of sensitive materials will also be examined by the commission.

The commission’s findings are expected by the end of November, which according to the group of peers would include most evidence collected.