Event recap: Information Access Series – Consultation and notification under the Freedom of Information Act 1982
On Thursday 28 March, two of OVIC’s Senior Case Managers provided an interesting and informative presentation on consultation and notification under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act).
As most people who work in FOI would be aware, the consultation requirements changed after amendments to the FOI Act in September 2017. A big change to the legislation was to make it mandatory for decision makers to consult with third parties before deciding whether certain exemptions under the FOI Act apply.
The seminar walked us through how to approach consultation, providing tips and hints on how to do this in a practical, informal and efficient way, including:
- Before you consult, talk to the applicant and describe the information you need to consult on and ask the applicant if they want to pursue the request. Explain to the applicant that you may need more time to process the request if you need to consult with third parties. This may help reduce the amount of information you have to process and will help manage the applicant’s expectations.
- Plan ahead – think about how many people you may need to consult with, how you can contact them and whether you can or should consult with them. Remember, there are some instances where you don’t have to consult. For example, think about the nature of the information, the context in which it was provided, and the impact it may have if you consult with the third party.
- If you consult with a third party and they object to releasing their information – ask them why they object. Getting the third party to explain their reasons for not wanting to release their information will help you to make your decision about whether or not to release it.
- You are not bound by the third party’s views – they are one factor you have to consider when you make your decision.
- In many circumstances, it may be more efficient to pick up the phone and talk to a third party verbally. Use your judgement and knowledge of the third party to determine the most appropriate contact method.
- Regardless of your contact method, remember to record all consultation you do in writing. For example, write a file note after a phone call or send an email back to the third party confirming their views. This is helpful for good record keeping practices and gives you something to refer back to when you are drafting your decision. It also shows that you consulted, or why you didn’t consult (if relevant). If the matter goes on review to OVIC, you will be asked to provide evidence of consultation.
- Set a time frame for the third party to get back to you.
Thank you to everyone who attended the seminar. If you were not able to make it, or wish to watch it again, the recording of the session is available on OVIC’s Periscope channel. You can also view the slides from the session here.
If you have any feedback on the seminar, or wish to propose a topic, please contact OVIC at firstname.lastname@example.org.