Recent Developments in UK Freedom of Information.


Freedom of Information: Public Sector Contracts are generally not exempt from disclosure under the UK Freedom of Information Act

The UK’s Freedom of Information Act 2000 was enacted in order to increase the accountability of public sector organisations. The consequence for companies contracting with government bodies may be that their pricing and other sensitive information is open to scrutiny by the public—and, by extension, their competitors.

Under FOIA, public bodies must disclose copies of any information held by them that is requested by members of the public, subject to a number of exemptions. When FOIA was first put in place, it was thought that a range of exemptions would protect commercial and confidential documents (such as contracts) from disclosure. Those exemptions have been narrowed over the years by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Information Tribunal.

A recent decision of the Information Tribunal—based on a set of facts increasingly common to most public bodies—has clarified just how narrow the exemptions are in relation to contracts. In the future, most information within a public sector contract will likely have to be disclosed if an appropriate request is made. This has implications both for public bodies and for companies entering into public sector contracts which they believe contain sensitive commercial information, especially as to pricing.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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