This is the third edition of the leading practitioners work on freedom of information. Designed to provide in-depth legal analysis and practical guidance, this book has become the first port of call for anyone either seeking or handling requests for official information. The latest edition maintains its authorship of expert lawyers. The two years since the previous edition have seen numerous important decisions from the courts and from the Information Tribunal on freedom of information law. The learning from all these has been incorporated into the text, enabling a practitioner to see immediately all relevant cases and the principles that emerge from them.
The book is logically organised so that the practitioner can quickly find the topic of choice. The work commences with an historical analysis that sets out the object of the legislation and its relationship with other aspects of public law. Full references to Hansard and other Parliamentary materials is provided. This is followed by a summary of the regime in five comparative jurisdictions, providing a useful testbed for anticipated effects of disclosure and a normative yardstick. The impact of the Human Rights Act 1998 is given separate consideration. Next follows a series of chapters dealing with rights of access under provisions apart from the FOI Act: access to information held by EU bodies; access to information under the Data Protection Act; access to information under the Environmental Information Regulations; public records; and access under numerous other provisions in legislation. Together, these provide the practitioner with sources of access that might otherwise be overlooked. All are arranged thematically.
The book then considers practical aspects of information requests: the persons who may make them; the bodies to whom they may be made; the time allowed for responding; the modes of response; fees and vexatious requests; the duty to advise and assist; the codes of practice; government guidance and its status; transferring of requests; third party consultation.
The next 13 chapters, comprising over half the book, are devoted to exemptions. These start with two important chapters dealing with general principles, including the notions of prejudice and the public interest. The arrangement of these chapters reflects the arrangement of the FOI Act, but the text is careful to include analogous references to the Environmental Information Regulations and the Data Protection Act 1998. With each chapter, the exemption is carefully analysed, starting with its Parliamentary history (giving full references to Hansard and other Parliamentary material) and the treatment given in the comparative jurisdictions. The analysis then turns to consider all court judgments and tribunal decisions dealing with the exemption. The principles are stated in the text, with footnotes giving all available references. Whether to prepare a case or to prepare a response to a request, these chapters allow the practitioner to get on top of the exemption rapidly and authoritatively.
The book concludes with three chapters setting out the role of the Information Commissioner and the Tribunal, appeals and enforcement. The chapter on appeals allows the practitioner to be familiar with the processes followed in the tribunal, picking up on the jurisprudence as it has emerged over the last five or so years.
Appendices include: precedent requests for information; a step-by-step guide to responding to a request; comparative tables; and a table of the FOI Acts Parliamentary history.
Finally, the book includes an annotated copy of the FOIA Act, the Data Protection Act 1998, the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, all subordinate legislation made under them, EU legislation, Tribunal rules and practice directions, and the Codes of Practice.
Throughout the book, full web references are given (including to all cases), facilitating ready access to primary material.
From the reviews of previous editions:
The depth of analysis and thought that Philip Coppel brings to the topic is evident throughout....Careful analysis is a hallmark of the book which reflects, not merely an academic interest in the legal regime but a real and active interest in the wider societal issues involved in the development of the law in this area.... The text delivers excellent value for anyone working seriously in this area. - Rosemary Jay in Freedom of Information Journal
Encyclopaedic and authoritative...a very useful guide to practitioners as well as those seeking official information - New Law Journal
This is not just a book for the library it is also a book to be held close at hand on any practitioners desk, or in any public authority boardroom - the hope expressed by Coppel that his book will assist in resolving [FOI Act] complexities and in revealing its subtleties is realised in a well composed and intelligently written volume. - Solicitors Journal
Philip Coppel QC is a barrister at 4-5 Grays Inn Square, specialising in public law.