Freedom of Information (FOI) Overview

Published: 15 August 2023

Details of thousands of police and civilian personal employed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) were released in error in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, with potentially life-changing consequences for those identified. It has also put Freedom of Information requests into the spotlight, so we have prepared some frequently asked questions for the purposes of clarification.

What is Freedom of Information?

Freedom of Information generally refers to the right for citizens to access information held by public authorities. Widely seen as being an essential part of any democracy because it is about accountability and transparency, it is recognised by the United Nations as a fundamental human right. Many countries across the world have put legislation in place to enshrine the rights into law.

Do we have a Freedom of Information Law in the Bailiwick of Guernsey?

The Bailiwick does not have legislation but it has a Freedom of Information Code (previously known as the Access to Public Information Code of Practice) with the following core principles:
  • A presumption of disclosure
  • A corporate approach
  • A culture of openness
  • Pro-active publication
  • Effective record management
The Freedom of Information Code applies to all States of Guernsey Committees and service areas, enabling any residents to make FoI requests in writing.

Several exemptions apply to protect Guernsey’s legal, commercial, competitive or public interests and can be applied to a document as a whole or to part of a document through redaction of information.

How can I make a Freedom of Information request under the Code?

You must be a Bailiwick of Guernsey resident to request information this way. This can be as an individual or a company, body or organisation.
Any requests for information should be made in writing and expressly state that the information is being requested under the “Freedom of Information Code”. The request should be sent to or by post to:

Information Requests
Office of the Policy & Resources Committee
Sir Charles Frossard House
St Peter Port

What does Freedom of Information have to do with Data Protection?

Freedom of Information covers information held by public authorities. In reality, this information will often include personal data about individuals, whether that is staff, citizens or other individuals that the public authorities are in contact with.

If a request relates to personal data about the requestor (i.e. you want information about yourself), this needs to be dealt with under the Data Protection (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2017 (the Law), as a data subject access request (DSAR).

If you wish to make a DSAR, please read this guidance for individuals. It contains information specifically about DSARs, how to make one, what you should receive back, and what to do if you are not happy with what you receive.

If you are a controller (an organisation that processes personal data) it is important that you understand your legal obligations in respect of data subjects rights and have appropriate policies and procedures to ensure they are dealt with properly. Please read this guidance on how to handle DSARs.

If a request includes third party personal data, it must be handled in accordance with the Law.

All public authorities must be clear about their compliance obligations under the Law and the FOI Code and should ensure that the processing of all information meets the necessary standards. They must be mindful of what can often be the complex interactions between these requirements and have robust governance standards and processes in place to manage them.

The rights of all individuals must be considered prior to any disclosure. Each case will need to be reviewed carefully and the context fully understood, taking into account the duties under the Code and the rights afforded to individuals and duties of authorities under the Law.

Public authorities are required, by law, to appoint a data protection officer (DPO). It is essential to have policies and procedures in place, involving the DPO, to handle all requests for information and personal data.

What about in the UK?

There is a law in the UK. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides for the public to access information held by public authorities. Information can be published proactively by authorities and individuals can also make what is called a ‘FoI request’.