Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide to Implementing the Act

Susan Ferguson (Visiting Professor of Archives, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK)

Records Management Journal

ISSN: 0956-5698

Article publication date: 1 December 2004




Ferguson, S. (2004), "Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide to Implementing the Act", Records Management Journal, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 134-134.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

It was with great expectation that I picked up this book and the content did not fail to impress. As the title of the book suggests, this book provides some practical guidelines for the impending Freedom of Information Act, and readers of this text will not be disappointed, as the author admits in the acknowledgements to being “immersed in the subject”. The book is well written and the content is sufficiently detailed without becoming a user manual.

The style throughout is clear and enlightening and this is a book which can be “dipped into” for clarification or helpful guidance, or be read from cover to cover for the complete novice. The language and tone is informative rather than instructive and there are easy‐to‐follow headings with a font style that is pleasing to the eye. There are useful checklists, templates and tables, which improve the clarity even further. The overviews at the beginning of each chapter help to guide the reader and the contents page would direct any enquirer or reader to the exact source.

The book is divided into nine chapters, logically arranged, starting with the political history and previous legislation leading up to the Act in Chapter 1, “Background to the Freedom of Information Act”. This includes the White Paper of 1997, the current Codes of Practice on Access to Government Information, through to the draft Information Bill in 1999. Chapter 2, “The legislation”, continues with the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act itself in 2000 with details of its main provisions. The schedule of exemptions is particularly useful and is written in plain English, with a simple description and the exact reference to the Act. Publication schemes and the Act's accompanying codes of practice are also described in detail in this chapter.

In Chapter 3 the exemptions are described in somewhat more detail, in legalese, but the examples used to explain each exemption are very useful. Publication schemes are included in Chapter 4 with some real life examples of introductions to the schemes from public bodies. It might have been more useful to have included an exact copy of a specimen publication scheme, for illustration purposes. Chapter 5 covers the enforcement and appeals procedures and includes a useful flow diagram of complaints and appeals procedures. Chapter 6 explores the principles of records management and steps required to meet the Lord Chancellor's code of practice, including time table of the model action plan and a methodology for a records audit. Links with other legislation including data protection, human rights and the Environmental Information Regulations are discussed in Chapter 7. However, perhaps the most interesting and useful chapter to anyone implementing freedom of information and records management, is Chapter 8 on staffing and training. This includes examples of job specifications with specimen job descriptions, person specifications and very detailed competency frameworks. Although there is less coverage on training in this chapter, there are some useful outline training presentations, which can even be downloaded using Powerpoint direct from the publishers. In the final chapter a practical implementation plan is discussed in detail, with a sample project brief and a useful list of the organisational requirements needed to meet the demands of Freedom of Information Act in full.

Appendices include the full text version of the Lord Chancellor's codes of practice on the management of records under sections 45 and 46 of the Act, a comprehensive list of definitions and a list of useful Web sites.

This must be the book of the year for records managers and anyone else involved with implementing Freedom of Information, including administrators, and senior managers alike. The checklists and flow diagrams are excellent and the style is knowledgeable without being too authoritative. It is easy to read and clearly written for the non‐lawyer, and I would recommend it as a “must read” to anyone responsible for implementing Freedom of Information in January 2005. It is a credit to the author, and I would have no hesitation in recommending it to students and colleagues alike and will certainly be making full use of it myself.

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