Concerns have been raised after the Government signalled plans to “reduce the burden” of the Freedom of Information Act on public authorities such as the FSA and the Financial Conduct Authority.
Public bodies can currently reject FOI requests where complying would exceed a cost limit of £450, equivalent to 18 hours of work.
The Justice committee suggested this should be reduced to 16 hours, but at a Westminster Hall debate last month justice minister Helen Grant said the Government wants to go further and focus on the “disproportionate burdens placed on public authorities” by “industrial users.”
Law firm Hogan Lovells associate in the UK and EU public law and policy team Julia Marlow says any restrictions could affect lobbying bodies and journalists.
Marlow says: “Because the FSA is dealing with commercially sensitive information, in a way it may be more likely to rely on exemptions than other public bodies. Helen Grant was at great pains to emphasise the balancing transparency measures the Government is going to adopt. Obviously any limit is very easy to paint as a restriction on accountability and openness.”
Apfa policy director Chris Hannant says: “While we have not found the FSA to be particularly responsive to our FOI requests, the FCA is supposed to be a transparent regulator.”
He adds the FSA already has many exemptions it can “hide behind” when rejecting FOI requests.