What is Freedom of Information?
The Freedom of Information Act confers on individuals a right of access to information held in the university's records, a right to have official information relating to them amended where it is incomplete, incorrect or misleading and a right to have made known to them the reasons for decisions that have materially affected them. This means that apart from information already published or otherwise available, individuals may apply:
- for access to university records retrospectively to the date the Act was implemented, which was 21 April 1998;
- for access to records that contain personal information about them irrespective of when created;
- for access to their own personnel records created since 21 April 1995;
- to have made known to them the reasons for decisions made by the university that have materially affected them. This right will apply from 1st October 2001.
The Act will not impose changes in the university's objectives or functions. It will, however, mean:
- the processing of requests for access to information within strict time limits;
- the publication of information about the university's functions, structure, the services it provides, the records it holds and of all procedures, practices and guidelines used in decision-making;
- some changes in the way in which records are created, maintained and used and the way in which decision-making processes and their outcomes are formulated and recorded.
It will be necessary to exempt from release certain types of information in some circumstances where the university may seek to withhold certain records because their release would cause a harm or injury prejudicial to the functioning of the university or would be contrary to the public interest. In practical terms, this means that the key exemptions will be records relating to processes still in deliberation, records relating to the performance of certain investigative functions and negotiations, and the disclosure to third parties of personal information, commercially sensitive information or information obtained in confidence. An individual will have the right to seek review of an initial decision to refuse access. This will be to a higher authority within the university. Should the requester be unhappy with the outcome of the review, he/she may appeal the decision to the Information Commissioner, an independent arbiter under the Act. The internal review will normally take place before an appeal to the Information Commissioner.
In order to provide greater access for the general community to information about how the university operates, as well as to aid individuals in framing requests, the University has provided, under sections 15 and 16, two reference guides. The guide published under section 15, available on this site and from the FOI Unit, gives details of how to make a request, when and how the information will be communicated to the requester, the fee structure for processing requests where applicable and the right of review and appeal in the event of the requester being dissatisfied with the outcome. It also contains details of the university's functions, its organisational structure, the services it provides and the classes of records it holds. The second guide, under section 16, also available on this site and from the FOI Unit, contains the policies, procedures and guidelines used by the university in decision-making, along with the rights, benefits, obligations and penalties imposed by the university in carrying out its functions and the methods by which these are administered.
All decisions made that materially affect individuals, as well as the reasons underlying the decisions, must be recorded so that they can be made available to them if requested. Because of this the university must document all policies, procedures, rules and guidelines used in decision-making, especially the criteria used in selection processes. The outcomes, based on the application of the criteria, will then illustrate to the individual the reason or reasons for the decision. The Freedom of Information Act does not make specific regulations with regard to selection processes in which the university engages in the course of its business. Under FOI individuals can have criteria for selection made known to them and can examine the extent to which the stated criteria are adhered to in a fair and equitable fashion. It is therefore essential that the criteria for selection, whether by examination, recruitment, procurement or any other method, and the regulations governing them (be they internal or external to the university) be published and followed.