Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

In My View

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

In My View

Article excerpt

Byline: By Lord Falconer

New year is traditionally a day for fresh starts and promises of changes in behaviour.

No matter how well-intentioned we are, we all know many of them won't last beyond the end of January.

But this New Year's Day did mark a radical change in the relationship between the Government and the citizen ( giving individuals for the first time the statutory right to see information held by Government departments and thousands of public bodies.

And we know it will last because we have given the change the force of law.

The Freedom of Information Act means, from January 1, that you can ask to see material which has, until now, been kept hidden.

And unless release of this information falls within certain exemptions needed, for example, to protect national security, individual privacy or the effective working of Government, you will be shown it.

It replaces the old idea of material being released on a "need to know basis" with a new "right to know."

The new Act applies to over 100,000 public bodies, including schools, hospitals, your local police force, councils and Government departments ( the net has been cast wider than many similar acts in other countries.

It will lead to considerable amounts of material behind Government and council decisions being shared with the public.

I believe it will lead not only to a better informed public, which is itself good for democracy, but also to better Government.

By giving more power to the citizen, making decision-making more open and easily understood, it will make public bodies more accountable and lead to better decision making. But as well as giving citizens the right to know more about policy that affects their lives, it also heralds an important change of culture.

For public bodies are already responding to the Act by releasing information they may not have published in the past. …

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