Web Updates & Current Events in the Law

This is where we'll announce the most recent additions to our web site. If you've visited us before and want to know what's changed, take a look here first.

Recent Developments in the UK:

Employment Act 2002

Police Reform Act 2002

Quarantine Laws

Genetic Modification (foodstuffs)


Freedom of Information Act 2000 (also see below)

Representation Of The People Act 2000

Recent News in the Law

For current European matters click here

  • FOUR MAJOR PIECES OF LEGISLATION IN JEOPARDY November 2, 2002: Peers will oppose four major pieces of legislation up to the wire next week as shifting cross-party coalitions - including some Labour backbenchers - seek to soften Home Office plans to crack down on refugees and torpedo the prime minister's plans to allow unmarried couples to adopt. Read The Guardian's article upon this matter.
  • Race Legislation News, Race Relations Amendment Act 2000, 23 October 2002: Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 and the EC Article 13 Race Directive. See also Draft Regulations that will amend the Race Relations Act 1976 in order to implement the EC Article 13 Race Directive have been launched. The accompanying consultation document "The Way Ahead" sets out detailed proposals.  Explanatory Notes are also available and should be read in conjunction with the draft regulations. A Regulatory Impact Assessment is available too.
  • Commercial and Common Law, Unfair terms in Contract (UCTA 1977), 2002: Together with the Scottish Law Commission, the LC shall shortly publish a consultation paper on Unfair Terms in Contracts - Consultation Paper No 166. The project is examining how to replace the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 with a single piece of legislation that would make the law clearer and more accessible. It also considers whether there should be slightly wider controls than at present over unfair terms in business-to-business contracts. (Webmaster note: This has now been published.)
  • Housing Law, Third Parties (Rights Against Insurers) Act 1930, March 2001: The Government has accepted the recommendations of a joint report between the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission - Third Parties - Rights against Insurers (Law Com No 272) - in a Written Answer to a Parliamentary Question in the Lords on 2 July 2002. In that report the LC offered Parliament a draft Bill to replace flawed legislation from 1930 governing claims by third parties against insurers. The LC's proposals would improve the operation of the law in this specialist but important area of insurance and insolvency law. The Lord Chancellor's Department is, in the first instance, to investigate the prospects of implementing these reforms by way of Regulatory Reform Order.
  • Public and Constitutional Law, Freedom of Information Bill, Winter 2000: The Freedom of Information Act 2000 was passed on 30 November 2000. The Act will be enforced by the Information Commissioner, a new post which came into being on 30 January 2001 and which combines Freedom of Information and Data Protection. Elizabeth France, previously the Data Protection Commissioner, being the first Information Commissioner, the 'Commissioner'. Both the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act relate to information handling and her dual role will allow the Commissioner to provide an integrated and coherent approach.

    What does the Act do?

    The Act gives a general right of access to all types of 'recorded' information held by public authorities, sets out exemptions from that right and places a number of obligations on public authorities.

    Who does the Act cover?

    Only public authorities are covered by the Act. These include Government Departments, local authorities, NHS bodies (such as hospitals, as well as doctors, dentists, pharmacists and opticians), schools, colleges and universities, the Police, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the National Assembly for Wales. It also includes a long list of other public bodies, ranging from various official advisory and expert committees, to regulators and organisations such as the Post Office, National Gallery and the Parole Board. A list is provided in Schedule 1 of the Act. There is a provision in the Act for other authorities to be named later and for organisations to be designated by the Secretary of State as public authorities because they exercise functions of a public nature or provide a service under a contract which is a function of that authority.

    When will the Act come into force?

    The Act will be brought fully into force by January 2005. As explained later in this paper, public authorities will have two main responsibilities under the Act. They will have to produce a 'publication scheme' (effectively a guide to the information they hold which is publicly available) and they will have to deal with individual requests for information. The duty to adopt a publication scheme will come into force first, according to the following timetable:

    30th November 2002: Government Departments and their Agencies and other public bodies which are covered by the 'Open Government Code' ('Code of Practice on Access to Government Information')

    28th February 2003: Local Authorities

    30th June 2003: Police and prosecuting authorities.

    31st October 2003: National Health Service

    29th February 2004: Schools and other Educational Institutions

    30th June 2004: Remaining public authorities

    Please note that the dates given here refer to when the schemes have to be in operation. Public authorities will need to submit them to the Commissioner for approval in advance of those dates. For more details please see Preparing for Implementation - Implementation Timetable and Publication Schemes Approval Documentation, which are available via our website or from this Office on request.

    All public authorities will be required to deal with individual requests from the 1st January 2005 when the general right of access to information held by public authorities comes into force.

    General History of Act
    The Government's proposals to encourage more open and accountable government by establishing a general statutory right of access to official records and information were published in its White Paper Your Right to Know (Cm 3818) in December 1997. On 1.4.98, at the end of the consultation period, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster announced that it had been a "successful and valuable exercise", during which over 550 replies had been received. He said that those replies would be taken into account in the preparation of a draft Bill. Subsequently, on 29.9.98, the Home Secretary said that the Home Office had been made responsible for carrying the proposals forward. He said that the transfer to the Home Office would mean that the policy could be developed alongside those on human rights and data protection.

    Outline of the Information Bill: A draft Freedom of Information Bill (Cm 4355) was published on 24.5.99, together with a consultation document.

    The main features in the draft Bill are:

    • a general right of access to information held by public authorities, subject to certain conditions and exemptions
    • public authorities to take into account the public interest when considering disclosure
    • schemes for the publication of information
    • a new Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal

    The following areas of information are to be opened up:

    • police inquiries
    • schools' admission criteria
    • waiting lists for hospitals and GPs

    The exemptions are:

    • national security, defence and international relations
    • individual/public safety
    • decision-making and policy advice
    • commercial interests
    • law enforcement
    • personal/in-confidence information

    The draft Bill implemented those proposals in the White Paper Your Right to Know (December 1997) where primary legislation is appropriate. Other aspects of the White Paper are to be implemented through secondary legislation, codes of practice or administrative procedures.

    On 22.10.99 the Home Secretary had announced that significant changes to the draft Bill, resulting from the extensive consultation exercise, would make it a stronger and more effective piece of legislation.


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Last modified: 12/14/02