This Code of Practice sets out the principles which underpin Brecon Beacons National Park Authority’s approach to the promotion of open government and reinforces its commitment to openness.
2. Status of this Code
This Code is not a legal document and it does not confer rights or override any legal or statutory provisions which either require or prevent the disclosure of information.
The Code applies to information held by the Authority. Contracts with private companies entered into by the Authority include terms relating to the disclosure of information.
Throughout this Code, references to the Authority are references to Brecon Beacons National Park Authority.
3. The Freedom of Information Act 2000
The Code takes into account the key features of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act), including the categories of exempt information specified within this legislation.
4. Key features of the Freedom of Information Act 2000
The Act provides a general right of access to recorded information held by the Authority and places two general duties on the Authority:
- To confirm or deny that it holds the information requested and;
- If it does hold the information to give the person requesting it access to it.
The Act also:
- Provides statutory time limits for complying with a request for information
- Requires the Authority to provide advice and assistance to people seeking information
- Requires the Authority to state the basis for the refusal of a request for information and to provide advice on how to complain in those circumstances
These duties are subject to exemptions which are set out in Appendix 1 and 2.
Whilst some of these exemptions are absolute, others are qualified, which means that the Authority must apply what is known as the public interest test before deciding whether to withhold or release the information. The Authority must assess whether in all the circumstances, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
In doing so, the Authority must make a distinction between what is genuinely in the public interest and what may merely be of interest to the public.
The Act provides that apart from the exemptions referred to above, the Authority may also refuse to confirm or deny whether it holds information and/or give access to it where:
- To do so would exceed the specified cost limit
- A fee is required and has not been paid
- Requests are vexatious or repeated or where substantially similar requests are received from the same person
- The applicant has not provided sufficient detail to identify the information required
The Authority is also required to adopt, implement, maintain and regularly review a publication scheme which commits the Authority to publish certain classes of information routinely, without the need to make a request to access it. The scheme must specify:-
- The classes of information which the Authority publishes as part of its normal business activities
- How the information can be obtained
- Whether the information is available free of charge or on payment
5. The Information Commissioner’s Office
The Information Commissioner’s Office is the independent authority set up to promote access to official information. Its duties include the promotion of the observance of the requirements of the Act, the promotion of good practice and the investigation of complaints about a public authority’s failure to comply with the requirements of the Act. Upon investigating a complaint, the Information Commissioner may compel a public authority to disclose information if it is considered that it was incorrectly withheld.
6. The Environmental Information Regulations 2004
Where recorded information is requested which is defined as ‘environmental information’, then the request will be dealt with under the Environmental Information Regulations (the Regulations), rather than the Act.
The Regulations provide a general right to access information which falls within the definition of environmental information. This definition encompasses information on:
- The state of the elements of the environment, such as air, atmosphere, water and land, and the interaction between these elements
- Factors affecting or likely to affect these elements, such as emissions, noise, radiation and waste
- Measures and activities that affect or may affect these elements and factors
- Reports on the implementation of environmental legislation
- Cost-benefit and other economic analyses used in the measures and activities referred to above
- The state of human health & safety where this is affected by elements of the environment
There are two key differences between the Regulations and the Act:
- Requests may be made verbally
- The circumstances in which requests can be refused are more limited
The Regulations contain a presumption in favour of disclosure and like the Act, if the Authority refuses to provide any information it holds, it is required to state in writing its reasons for doing so, applying one of the exceptions to the duty to disclose information. These exceptions are set out in Appendix 3.
7. Key principles of the Authority’s approach to openness
Notwithstanding the requirements of the Act and the Regulations, the Authority is committed to the following principles, which are explained in more detail in Part 3:
- Maximising openness in the way it conducts its business
- Presenting information in clear language in line with its language scheme and taking account of different needs
- Making extensive use of the Authority’s website http://www.beacons-npa.gov.uk/ as a means of publishing information
- Providing prompt and comprehensive responses to requests for information;
- Providing a right of complaint where a member of the public is not satisfied with the response received
- Providing information free of charge where possible and clear advice about charges and when they apply
- Respecting personal privacy, commercial confidentiality, the duty of confidence and all laws governing the release of information
8. Review of the Code of Practice on Public Access to Information
This Code will be kept under review to ensure that the Authority meets statutory requirements and any codes of practice made under the Act.