As part of international Right to Know week, the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) is calling on islanders to understand the role they play in promoting a healthy democratic government by being able to hold public authorities more accountable to the public.
Right to Know week celebrates access to information under the Freedom of Information Law. It aims to make public authorities more accountable by providing the public with a fundamental legal right to obtain copies of records that public authorities hold, or other agencies hold on behalf of public authorities, and that the right information in those records is disclosed.
‘We all have a right to obtain information we need to make sound and informed decisions and political choices. Globally, we live in an era of ‘fake news’, communications spin and social media manipulation, and the public’s trust of public authorities in many jurisdictions is low. An active and engaged citizenry with an effective regime of access to information promotes better public policy-making and improves public trust. It is vital that everyone is aware of our right to access important information that affects our daily lives,’ said Information Commissioner Jay Fedorak.
Jersey’s Freedom of Information law is safeguarded by the Office of the Information Commissioner, which has legal powers to enforce public authorities to comply with the law.
‘Public officials are more thoughtful and careful when they are aware that their words and deeds may be subject to public scrutiny. Therefore, to ensure real accountability that will preserve and improve the democratic system of government we all cherish, it is essential that we have a well-regulated system of public access to records of significance. The Office of the Information Commission has an important role to play in helping public agencies to apply the correct interpretation and to confirm to applicants whether they have done so, either in whole or in part,’ added the Commissioner.
In Jersey, public agencies must make every reasonable effort to respond openly, accurately, completely and without delay. The Freedom of Information law stipulates that public agencies must respond to requests within 20 working days, barring specified exceptional circumstances. Any delay beyond that limit is prejudicial to the interest of the applicant and constitutes a contravention of the law. They must also make an accurate and complete response. However, the law recognises that it is in the public interest that certain information remain confidential or secret.