Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has proposed fresh amendments to the Freedom of Information Act after he says he was taken aback by the public reaction to the proposed changes.
But the AG says the law must be changed to protect the system from ‘UNC lawyers who are milking the system.’
Under the current law, a Government entity has 30 days to process a freedom of information request. The government then proposed that instead of 30 days the government entity would now have 90 days. If the application is to be denied it would then go to the office of the Attorney General for an addition 90 days so that the AG can give it a second look to ascertain if the denial is justified.
But following public and political uproar over the changes, Faris Al Rawi is now proposing fresh amendments.
Speaking today at Attorney General and Legal Affairs office in POS, Faris Al Rawi said now, instead of 90 days, the government entity will get 45 days. If the application is to be denied, instead of the AG having 90 days to look it over, the office holder will instead have 30.
But why change it at all?
The AG admitted that data shows that most FOI requests are approved. But over the last 4 years, they’ve noticed a trend where the few that are refused, end up in court and cost the state millions in legal fees.
Faris Al Rawi called it a ‘severe attack’ of the current practice by ‘UNC lawyers.’
Mr. Al Rawi says the lawyers are waiting for the 30-day expiration and then instructing the applicants to file for judicial review.
“They file a judicial review on day 31, they may get the FOI response by day 35, the lawyer will tell the client that they will now have to withdraw the judicial review application and you must now pay me costs.”
Mr. Al Rawi said that could in one instance cost the state upward of $500,000.
Mr. Al Rawi said a unit has been established to oversee the denied FOI applications.
He expects the new amendments to be brought to Parliament on Friday, June 14th.