The Cayman Islands Information Commissioner’s Office reports the general public has become more aware of their rights under the territory’s Freedom of Information Law (2007), according to a quarterly evaluation released by the office this week.
However, so are the public authorities that handle requests for government records.
“An increasing number of public authorities engage legal counsel to deal with FOI requests, especially once an appeal has been raised,” the Information Commissioner Office stated in its January-March quarterly report. “This puts additional pressure on the ICO as the approach becomes increasingly legalistic and adversarial, with greater emphasis on withholding records, rather than maximum disclosure as intended in the law.”
The information office said it’s dealing with a “wide range” of issues during appeals of open records requests made under the FOI law.
“These range from non or partial disclosure [of records] to procedural or legal questions, including a lack of, or slow, response from the public authority, incorrect interpretation and unexplained application of exceptions and exemptions.”
Some hold ups occur because of the applicants for the records as well, including those who make unreasonable or vexatious requests.
The Information Commissioner’s Office had a record number of appeals from people seeking government records during the previous budget year, according to the office’s annual report.
That could mean it’s getting harder to obtain information, but it could also mean that people are starting to understand the proper use of the Freedom of Information Law, the report noted.
“The high number of appeals in 2010/11 may indicate increased sophistication and better understanding of the law on the part of FOI applicants,” the commissioner’s office wrote in its annual review.
There were 34 appeals of information requests handled by the office in 2010/11 compared with 14 in 2009/10 and 20 between January and June 2009, the first half-year during which FOI was implemented.
The Cayman Islands’ open records law was passed in 2007, but came into effect on 5 January, 2009. Since then, more than 1,800 freedom of information requests have been made to various government entities.
The Information Commissioner’s Office only handles appeals of open records applications where individuals feel the response from government was deficient in some way, either in granting of the record or in response time to the request.
Initially, FOI requests are handled internally by the agency to which they are sent.
Overall, the number of open records requests fell from 739 in government’s 2009/10 budget year to 627 in the 2010/11 year.
No progress was reported during the first part of this year regarding an ongoing review of the Freedom of Information Law.
According to the legislation, a wholesale review of FOI practices was supposed to be completed within 18 months of the implementation of the law.
That would have been somewhere around mid-2010.
The review was announced around that time but has apparently not made its way out of a Legislative Assembly subcommittee.
A committee of the entire assembly met regarding the issue in 2010.
The Information Commissioner’s recommendations for the Law Review were submitted to this committee in September 2010, and a position paper on the subject of and anonymity and fees was sent to the FOI Law Review Committee in January, 2011,” the office’s report noted.
“No progress was reported on the law review this quarter.”