Social inclusion and freedom of info

Over the past 40 years various specific anti-discrimination laws have been introduced: disability discrimination, sex discrimination, and so on.

Other laws provide an infrastructure which can assist in applying them effectively. The latest of these is about freedom of information.

We now have a general right of access to the recorded information held by about 100,000 public authorities in the UK, from government departments to primary schools.

Each public sector organization must have a publication scheme available. This comprises a list of its publications, whether the information is provided free or for payment, and how to obtain it.

Publication schemes may be divided into broad categories. Social inclusion often appears as a category on its own, or as a class of information within a category.

This enables information held by the particular organization about social inclusion to be routinely and readily accessible. The information commissioner is responsible for promoting and enforcing the law and for approving publication schemes.

Access to information and records is one democratic means of helping to prevent government abuse and to promote accountability, especially when the use of information and communication technologies and services is constantly expanding.

Public decision makers are aware that information surrounding their decisions will be accessible to anyone who asks.

A change in culture needs to take place so that the openness and accountability aims of the legislation may be achieved, and trust in public authorities consequently enhanced.

It looks as if this is happening. The information commissioner says that the freedom of information law is already making a significant difference to public life.

Supplied by Rachel Burnett, solicitor, Burnett IT Legal Services. Email: rb@burnett.uk.net

This article first appeared in July 2005 ITNOW.