Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide to Implementing the Act

Steve Wood (Lecturer in Information Management, School of Business Information, Liverpool John Moores University and Editor of the Freedom of Information weblog

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Article publication date: 1 September 2004




Wood, S. (2004), "Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide to Implementing the Act", New Library World, Vol. 105 No. 9/10, pp. 385-385.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The deadline of January 2005 draws ever closer for the 100,000 plus public authorities that have to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (2000). Compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a challenge for many public authorities: records management policies procedures must be designed, implemented or upgraded, decisions must be made about investment in electronic document and records management systems (EDRMS) and workflows for dealing with requests must be implemented.

Brief overview of FOIA: from 2005, there will be a statutory “Right to know” in the UK for the first time: there will be a right to request and receive information from UK public authorities, who must comply unless the information falls into an exemption category. Requests must be dealt with within a time period (20 days) and non‐compliance or cases of dispute will be dealt with by the independent information commissioner (also responsible for data protection).

The publication of this book by Kelvin Smith (Head of Cataloguing at the Department of National Archives) is timely and it plugs a clear gap in the market. There are few books on the topic of the “Freedom of Information Act” that information professionals can easily pick up without having to wade through heavy legal language. The approach Smith takes is practical and he clearly focuses on what records and information managers in the field require in terms of guidance. The core components in the book are the descriptions, checklists, models and examples that FOI practioners can easily apply in the context of their organisation.

The first five chapters in the book succinctly explain the background to the Act, the Act itself and how it will operate. These sections are useful for the clear language explaining the legal language of the Act, but are not vital reading. Much of this information is available in documentation available on the Information Commissioner's Web site (

The chapter on publication schemes (part of the Act stipulates that all public authorities must produce a publication scheme – a guide to information which they intend to publish or already publish) is useful as the schemes are the only part of the Act that has been implemented already before the 2005 start date. This chapter is therefore able to guide the reader through the practical process of developing a scheme using real life examples.

It is in chapters six to eight that Smith offers the expertise that will be of real value to practitioners. Smith introduces concepts and methods from the field of records management that are required in the Freedom of Information Act implementation process. Many organisations will not have a defined post of records manager or a clear records management policy making these sections invaluable to many who are looking at records management for the first time. The specimen questionnaire supplied as part of the records audit is particularly useful.

Chapter nine, entitled “Getting ready for freedom of information” is surprisingly brief and is a poor end to the book. It is disappointing to see only a half page given to procedures for handling requests. Surprisingly little time is also given to looking at the overseas experience of implementing FOI, particularly in countries with similar Acts. Ireland for example has had an Act since 1997.

Although the book deserves praise for the gap it plugs in the market, the clear language explaining FOI and the authoritative records management guidance, there are some issues that need to be considered before purchasing the text; some of the material will date quickly, as new guidance is still being issued by the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Office of the Information Commissioner (for example on fees and charging policy). Any practioner should not solely rely on this text and should constantly monitor the Web sites of the aforementioned organisations in the run up to 2005.

The nature of the Act will also be likely to change once knowledge and experience of operation has been gained. A regular new edition of the text every few years will be required. It can be argued that much of this material would make an excellent electronic guide available and updated on the Web, rather than a book (which is also quite expensive for its size at £39.95)

Some of material in this text can also be found on the Web in other similar forms and these sources should be investigated first: for example guides on the Information Commissioner's Web site explaining issues such as exemptions and guidance already available on the National Archives Web site.

Finally the book could also be improved by a more detailed list of resources, particularly with reference to learning from overseas examples, Ireland in particular.

Accompanying slides to download are available at

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