The Freedom of Information Act 2014 gives everyone the right to access records relating to them held by all public bodies, unless specifically exempt. It also allows the Government to designate other bodies who receive significant public funds so that the legislation applies to them also.
Under the Freedom of Information Act 2014, each individual has the legal right:
- To access information relating to himself/herself personally held by public bodies (subject to certain exemptions)
- To have information relating to himself/herself amended where it is incomplete, incorrect or misleading
- To obtain reasons for decisions affecting himself/herself.
These rights of access to records, to have personal information amended and to have a statement of reasons for a decision can also be exercised by a parent or guardian in respect of a minor or disabled person and by the next of kin or personal representative of a deceased person (subject to guidelines published by the Minister from time to time).
Exempt records include information obtained in confidence, commercially sensitive information and personal information requested by third parties. There are certain provisions set out in the Freedom of Information Acts that provide for the disclosure of such information in certain circumstances. There are consultation procedures which must be followed if a public body proposes to release, in the public interest, such information.
Where records contain information of a sensitive medical, psychiatric or social work nature and the head of the body is of the opinion that its disclosure to the person concerned may be prejudicial to his or her health or emotional well being then, if requested to do so by the person concerned, the head shall instead release the record to an appropriate health professional nominated by the requester.
Any decision taken by the public body may be appealed by the requester to a higher authority within the body and/or to the Information Commissioner. A decision of the Information Commissioner may be appealed to the High Court on a point of law.
Where a public body receives a Freedom of Information request they are required to also consider the request under data protection requirements and give the person the maximum amount of information.
At Porter Morris LLP Solicitors we advise public bodies on responding to requests having regard to the nature of the information being sought and the exemption provisions and any subsequent appeals that may arise. We also advise individuals on formulating requests under the Freedom of Information Acts.