The Freedom of Information Act 2000 aims to promote a culture of openness and accountability amongst public authorities by providing people with rights of access to the information held by them. It is expected that these rights will facilitate better public understanding of how public authorities carry out their duties, why they make the decisions they do and how they spend public money.
The public will be able to gain access to information held by public authorities in two ways. Firstly, from January 2005, they will have the right to request any information held by a public authority (although this right is fettered by a number of provisions exempting disclosure). Secondly, from 31 October 2003, every health sector public authority must make some information available as a matter of course through a publication scheme, with information included in the publication scheme being routinely made available to anyone who asks for it. A publication scheme is therefore both a commitment to make certain information available and a guide to how and where that information is available. All publication schemes have to be approved by the Information Commissioner.
To comply with the Freedom of Information Act, a publication scheme must specify;
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