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Your right
By Ibrahim Hasan
Each month we hope that
this section of the magazine
will inform, educate and
sometimes also maybe
puzzle you in the big wide
world of the UK Law to know
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 authority has twenty working days to the Act may be useful in prising open
was fully introduced in January 2005. respond. It may either supply a copy the doors of official secrecy. Top of
It will have a massive impact on the of the information (or a summary) or the list is the legality and effects of
way the public, including Muslims, allow you to inspect the documents. the war in Iraq. Recently there have
access information held by over There are some exemptions to this been decisions requiring disclosure
100,000 public sector organisations right of access e.g. where disclosure of the Cabinet minutes discussing the
in England and Wales. would prejudice crime prevention, Iraq War as well as the previous draft
The Act does exactly what it says national security, health and safety previous draft of the Iraq dossier. Also
on the tin! From January, anyone or someone’s commercial interests. the killing of Muslims in prison, the
can exercise a legal right to ask for However, most of these exemptions funding of Muslim schools and the
any recorded information held by any are subject to the Public Interest use of anti terrorism powers against
public authority. This does not just test. This means that, even if the Muslims may well all benefit from
cover central government or the local information is exempt, the public Freedom of information requests.
council. The fire brigade, hospitals, authority has to consider whether the
schools, the police and even doctors’ public’s right to know the information
and dentists’ surgeries are included. is more important than keeping it
Applicants will be able to peer into secret.
official files and ask for copies of So what will it cost to ask for
documents to check whether a public information under the Act? Public
authority is doing its job properly authorities, in the majority of
and to get the answers to burning cases, will only be able to
questions such as: charge for photocopying,
> Why did you build that roundabout printing and postage. The
there? staff costs of finding and
> Why am I waiting so long for my supplying the information will
hospital appointment? not be chargeable.
> How much did you spend on that Anyone who is refused
service/those goods? information under the Act can
> Why has my application been complain to the public authority.
turned down? If they remain dissatisfied they
People who want to know why they can take their complaint further
are not getting the service they expect to the Information Commissioner,
will now be able to see the paperwork Richard Thomas, who is in charge
or even e mails for themselves. of enforcing the Act. He has
Anyone, be they individual or tough powers to force disclosure
organisation based anywhere in the of information. Further details are
world, can make a request under the available on his website (www.
There is no complicated form to fill uk). Scotland has its own separate
out and no need to mention Freedom Act, which is similar to the English
of Information. All they have to do is version (see www.itspublicknowledge.
make their request in writing, giving info).
their name and address. Motive or The Act will prove very worthwhile
reason for asking is irrelevant. Indeed for all citizens who feel that, for so
you cannot be asked why you want long, they have been denied answers
to the information or what you will do to critical questions. For Muslims, in
with it. particular, there have been a number
Once a request is received, the public of recent high profile issues where
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