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THE government was accused of a “stitch-up” yesterday after it refused a freedom of information request — asking for details of proposed reforms to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
Ministers announced in July that they had established an “independent, cross-party commission on freedom of information” to consider whether changes were needed in order to protect “policy development.”
However, the commission has faced criticism due to the inclusion of figures such as Jack Straw, who have publicly argued for the restriction of the FOI Act, but no known advocates of freedom of information.
Legal charity Reprieve asked the Cabinet Office to disclose, under the FOI Act, whether there was a short-listing process to choose commissioners, what their names were and who was responsible for making the final selection of the panel.
However, in a move which could have been lifted straight from the pages of a Franz Kafka novel, the request was refused in total on the grounds of “data protection.”
Bizarrely, the Cabinet Office’s denial extends to refusing to disclose which figures within government were responsible for the decision on the panel’s membership and the process by which that decision was made.
Reprieve head of communications Donald Campbell said: “The government’s unjustified secrecy around how it selected members of the freedom of information commission will only fuel concerns that it has been set up with the aim of weakening the public’s right to know.
“FOI is a vital tool for keeping our political masters honest.
“Any discussion about changes to FOI powers should therefore take place in an open manner, with full public engagement.
“It is therefore deeply disappointing that the government is instead pursuing a process which appears to be a stitch-up, taking place behind closed doors — and using spurious reasons to keep its workings hidden from public view.”
Reprieve has previously used the FOI Act to uncover information relating to British involvement in covert drone strikes and the CIA torture programme.
It says it is concerned that any watering down of the Act would restrict the public’s ability to hold the government accountable for serious human rights abuses.
The Cabinet Office was unavailable for comment.
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