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Your right to know review
Your Right to Know: How to use the Freedom of Information Act and
other access laws; Heather Brooke – Pluto Press, £12.99
Readers might be forgiven for not realising that the UK’s Freedom of Information Act came into force at the beginning of the year due to the Government’s reluctance to grant the public much – if any – access to the information requested. For example, information requests for cabinet members’ diaries and information regarding the decision to invade Iraq – have been turned down on one pretext or another.
Despite the Government’s reluctance to honour the spirit of the legislation so far, the Freedom of Information Act and other public access laws give the public the legal right to ask for and receive information from more than 100,000 organisations that provide a “public function”, such as local and central government authorities, NHS trusts, police authorities and emergency services. In practice, of course, these bodies are looking to use the exemptions under the act to stifle information requests – though for how much further depends on public resistance.
Your Right to Know by Heather Brooke is an invaluable tool for anybody wishing to hold public bodies and public servants – including MPs – accountable. Written in clear language and in a guide-book format, Your Right to Know explains the types of information collected by hundreds of government departments and public bodies, and under what areas of the law the public can request access to it. The guide also provides contact addresses, sample letters and advice on how to get the information people want to hold those in power to account.
Brooke explains how people can find out detailed crime figures for the streets they live in, the operation success rates of local doctors and surgeons, how badly polluted local streams, ponds, and rivers might be, and whether MI5 has files on them.
Brooke’s book is invaluable ammunition in the battle to hold authorities to account. Your Right to Know is more than a reference book – it is also an exposť of Britain’s culture of secrecy, naming and shaming those bodies that fail to account for themselves to the public despite taking massive chunks of the public purse. Everyone should buy this book.
[NOTE: There is also a website that accompanies and updates the book. For further information, visit www.yrtk.org]
“Your Right to Know by Heather Brooke is an invaluable tool for anybody wishing to hold public bodies and public servants – including MPs – accountable”