The Freedom of Information Act provides citizens with a legally enforceable right to obtain access to official documents held by government departments and other public authorities unless the documents are exempt.
This right of access is not absolute and the public authority may refuse disclosure of the documents if the documents requested are regarded as exempt documents under the Act. Some of these documents include Cabinet document; internal working documents; documents affecting personal privacy amongst others. However, the Act provides a public authority with the authority to grant access to exempt documents where disclosure is justified in the public interest.
The right of access conferred by the Act applies to official documents not information.
“Document” is defined in the Act as information recorded in any form whether printed or on tape or film or by electronic means.
When a person makes a request for access under the FOI Act the public agency/department is obliged to:
assist an applicant where necessary to meet the requirements of the Act when making a request
process FOI request within the timeframes set out in the Act
grant the request or provide reasons in writing when access is denied
inform the applicant of his right to apply to the High Court for a review of the decision to refuse access including the timeframe within which such application must be made to the court
inform the applicant of his rights to complain to the Ombudsman where the document does not exist or cannot be located after a thorough and diligent search