Open Government - Local Government Style

Publication Date01 January 1988
DOI10.1177/095207678800300106
Date01 January 1988
AuthorPatrick Birkinshaw
SubjectArticles
46
Open
Government - Local
Government
Style
by
Patrick
Birkinshaw,
Law
School,
Hull
University
Abstract
Central
Government
refuses
to
accept
the
need
for
freedom
of
information
or
open
government
laws
affecting
its
administration.
In
1985,
however,
the
Local
Government
(Access
to
Information)
Act
was
passed
which
constitutes
a
freedom
Of
information
law
for
local
government.
What
has
been
the
impact
of
this
statute
on
local
government
administration?
What
problems
or
difficulties
has
the
legis-
lation
caused
and
what
lessons
for
good
government
might
the
law
and
its
operation
hold?
Since
Mrs
Thatcher
first
came
to
power
in
1979,
central
government
has
rigidly
maintained
the
necessity
of
controlling
government
secrets.
Even
with
the
dis-
crediting
of
s.2
of
the
Official
Secrets
Acts
following
the
acquittal
of
Clive
Ponting
in
19851,
the
Government~has
sought,
successfully,
to
extend
the
scope
of
the
civil
law
of
confidentiality
to
tighten
its
grip
over
state
secrets.
In
a
period
which
has
seen
a
welter
of
activity
to
attempt
to
close
the
processes
of
government
to
public
scrutiny,
it
should
not
be
overlooked
that
since
1984,
the
statute
book
has
seen
significant
developments
in
the
provision
of
access
to
information
legislation
(Birkinshaw,
1988).
Although
the
Data
Protection
Act
1984
became
fully
oper-
ational
in
November
1987,
the
Act
was
forced
upon
the
British
Government
by
the
realities
of
international
commerce.
The
Local
Government
(Access
to
Infor-
mation)
Act
1985 and
the
Access
to
Personal
Files
Act
1987
are,
however,
two
acts
which
would
not
have
passed
through
the
legislature
had
it
not
been
for
Government
support.
The
cost
of
trade-off
for
support
was
a
considerable
diminu-
tion
of
the
Acts’
provisions
especially
in
relation
to
the
latter
statute.
The
end
result
of
these
two
statutes,
however,
is
that
Britain
can
apparently
now
boast
that
it
has
freedom
of
information
legislation -
albeit
restricted
to
local
government.
We
should
not
overlook
that
’freedom
of
information’
is
in
reality
a
misnomer
for
such
legislation
when
the
exceptions
and
exemptions
are
weighed.
In
fact
before
the
local
government
statutes
were
passed
a
considerable
corpus
of
statutory
provisions,
and
common
law
duties,
imposed
obligations
upon
local
authorities
to
provide
information
to
a
variety
of
constituencies
which
included
Government
Departments,
the
Commission
for
Local
Administration,
the
Audit

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