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The Freedom of Information Act has done little to boost public participation in government and may have reduced trust, the Ministry of Justice has said. In evidence to the Commons justice select committee, it said FOI had made authorities more open, but had not improved their decision making. The MPs are considering whether the act - made law in 2005 - should be amended. Some civil servants are calling for the imposition of fees to dissuade "vexatious" and "serial" requesters. The FOI Act allows members of the public, companies, journalists and campaigners to request information from some 100,000 public bodies.
Among the contributions was the Association of Chief Police Officers, which said "the original purpose and remit of the act has somewhat become lost because of the way in which it can be used and abused in its application by certain individuals". "Whilst most requests are submitted by responsible and concerned citizens or organisations, a significant proportion are simply bizarre or obsessive in nature and do little to advance public knowledge or satisfy a wider public interest," ACPO said. The organisation also said "fishing" by journalists "to trawl for stories" was "a major concern". It backed the introduction of a £10 fee for all requests and an education programme to give the public "more realistic expectations as to the types of information they are likely to receive". However, the Nuclear Information Service - a not-for-profit body promoting public awareness of the industry - said it believed there was no need to change the charging basis for the scheme, and there were already sufficient powers within the act to deal with vexatious requests. It said that the rising number of requests volumes should be a cause for satisfaction in government, not concern, and it was "unreasonable to blame members of the public who exercise their rights to information for an increase in costs when public authorities do not handle information requests in a cost-effective and considered manner".