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Code of Practice on Public Access to Information

Contents

1 Code of Practice on Public Access to Information

1.1 Purpose

This Code of Practice sets out:

  • the principles guiding our approach to openness;

  • the principles under which we will publish information or make it available on request; and

  • the circumstances in which we may withhold information.

  • It also tells you where to seek advice about requesting information and reinforces:

  • our commitment to be open about what we do.

1.2 Scope

This Code of Practice sets out the principles by which we will meet our commitments and obligations under:

  • section 31 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 and the

  • the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Data Protection Act

  • 1998 and the Environmental Information Regulations, including the rights of access to information and the categories of exempt information specified in those laws; and

  • the relevant codes of practice and guidance issued by government departments and by the Information Commissioner.

This Code does not create rights of access to documents.  However, when documents are provided, they will be provided in the language of your request if they available in both English and Welsh.  If they are only available in one language, they will be provided in that language unless the document consists of fewer than 100 words.

1.3 Principles of Our Approach to Openness

We are committed to the following principles. They are explained in detail in Part 3:

  • Principle 1 - Maximising openness

  • Principle 2 - Using clear language

  • Principle 3 - Maintaining a Publication Scheme

  • Principle 4 - Publishing on the internet

  • Principle 5 - Respecting privacy, confidentiality and law

  • Principle 6 - Prompt and comprehensive responses

  • Principle 7 - Right of complaint

  • Principle 8 - Providing information free of charge

1.4 Status

This Code does not override any legal provisions that require or prevent the disclosure of information.

The Government of Wales Act 2006 formally separates the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government, and defines the functions of the two bodies. The Act also establishes a body known as the Assembly Commission (the Commission).

The National Assembly for Wales

The National Assembly for Wales (the Assembly) consists of the 60 Assembly Members elected by the people of Wales. The Assembly is responsible for approving most public expenditure in Wales, for scrutinising the actions of the Welsh Assembly Government and for holding it to account. It also has the power to formulate legislation (known as Assembly Measures) in areas for which responsibility has been transferred to it by the UK Parliament.

The Assembly Commission

The Commission consists of the Assembly’s Presiding Officer and four other Assembly Members. The Commission must provide to the Assembly, or ensure that the Assembly is provided with, the property, staff and services required for the Assembly's purposes. Information on the Commission’s estate, staff and services can be found in the Assembly Commission pages  

Whilst this Code relates to the Assembly, it will be the Commission which will mainly be responsible for its implementation. In order to avoid confusion for the remainder of the document, we will refer to the Assembly alone, except where there is a need to differentiate between responsibilities.  Where we refer to the Assembly, we do not include information held by Members in their personal or constituency/regional capacities.

The National Assembly for Wales is listed as a public authority in the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

This Code applies to the recorded information we hold or that is held for us by another person. Except for environmental information, we do not hold information if we hold it on behalf of another person. The code also applies to documents relating to the proceedings of the Assembly, its committees and sub-committees except those from which the public are excluded under the Assembly’s Standing Orders.

Contracts with third parties entered into by the Assembly include terms covering the disclosure of information. Information provided by third parties will be considered for disclosure if it is requested.

1.5 Review of this Code

We will review this Code to ensure that we continue to meet legal requirements governing access to information.

2 Requests For Information

2.1 Providing Advice and Assistance

We will, as far as is reasonable and possible, provide advice and assistance on making requests for information. Contact details are given in Part 4.

2.2 Making a Request

You can request information:

  • in writing, including by fax or email;

  • if you are unable to put your request in writing because of a disability, or for some other reason, you may make a request by telephone or in person:

  • requests for environmental information may also be made by telephone or in person.

  • Requests in writing may be made in Welsh or English.  If your request is not in writing, we will write to you to confirm what information you asked for.  That letter will be in the language of the conversation in which you made your request.

  • When requesting information, you must:

  • give a name and address to which a reply may be sent;

  • give enough detail for us to identify what information you want.

  • provide proof of identity when requesting your own personal data. You may be asked to   

  • pay a small fee for personal data requests. You may tell us how you would prefer to    

  • receive the information. For example:

  • a copy of the information;

  • by inspecting the information; or,

  • a digest or summary of the information.

Whenever reasonable, we will provide information in the format that you prefer. If we cannot do this, we will explain why.

2.3 Which Law Applies?

You do not need to mention which law you think applies to your request for information. We will gather the information you seek and examine it to see which laws apply and then apply them. This may mean that we apply more than one law to your request. You are encouraged to be as precise as possible in your request; if you are not sure what to say in your request, you can ask us for help. You may, if you wish, restrict the information you seek.  Doing so may enable us to provide information more quickly as the amount of searching required could be reduced.  For example, you could ask us to send you only the personal data you are entitled to under the Data Protection Act 1998 and we would not send you any personal information, any environmental information or any information covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

3  The Principles Explained

Principle 1: Maximising Openness

We will be as open as possible and only withhold information if it falls into one of the exempt categories or disclosure would breach any other provision of law. Where an exemption is applied we may also apply a public interest test and a substantial harm test, Further details are provided in annex A.

  • We will continuously seek opportunities to publish information unless it is exempt under this Code.

  • Assembly plenary meetings are held in public. Committee meetings are also held in public except in specific circumstances set out in the Assembly’s Standing Orders. Our website has information about these meetings.

Principle 2: Using Clear Language

We will present our business in clear language, in line with our bilingual policies and taking account of different needs

  • We will use plain, gender neutral language in our dealings with the public.

  • We will aim to produce brief, easy to read documents and will avoid the use of small print.

  • We will produce documents in English and Welsh in accordance with the Assembly Welsh Language Scheme.

  • We will respect the differing needs of different sectors of the community.

Principle 3: Maintaining a Publication Scheme

We will maintain a Publication Scheme

  • The Scheme states our commitment to make information publicly available and sets out:

  • the information we undertake to publish as a matter of course;

  • how this information will be published;

  • whether the information is available free of charge or not.

  • The Scheme is published on our website.

  • Hard copies of the Scheme will be provided upon request.

Principle 4: Publishing on the Internet

We will publish information on the Internet

  • Our website holds information that falls within the categories listed in our Publication Scheme.

  • We will provide bilingual websites in accordance with our statutory obligations and our policies on the use of the Welsh and English languages.

  • We will publish records and minutes of Assembly proceedings on our website in accordance with the Assembly’s Standing Orders. This includes plenary sessions and most committees (except those that the Assembly’s Standing Orders allow to meet

  • in private when that power has been exercised).

  • Our website will conform to international and national standards for accessibility.

  • Our website will provide search facilities, feedback and contact forms for further enquiries about the availability of information.

  • Our website will list significant disclosures of information made in response to requests for information. This will not include personal data disclosed in response to subject access requests under the Data Protection Act 1998.

Principle 5:Respecting Privacy, Confidentiality and Law

We will respect personal privacy, the duty of confidence, and all laws governing the release of information

  • Before we reply to a request that will involve disclosing information about someone whose interests are likely to be affected by disclosure, we will normally consult them to ensure that any disclosure complies with the law.

  • Examples of legislation covered by this principle include the Official Secrets Act 1989, the Data Protection Act 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Environmental Information

  • Regulations, and the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Principle 6: Prompt and Comprehensive Responses

We will provide prompt and comprehensive responses to requests for information

  • We will send information you request and which is not exempt, promptly and in any case within legal time limits.

  • We may send information in several instalments to ensure that you receive as much as possible as early as possible.

  • The law sets basic time limits and sets out how, in some circumstances, we may take longer. If we need to take longer, we will write to you explaining why and giving a new deadline.

  • If you need our help to make a request we will write to you for confirmation that we have understood your request correctly and so that you have a record of your request.

  • Any information we disclose will be in the language in which we hold the information unless the document consists of fewer than 100 words

  • If we receive a request in Welsh or English, the covering letter for our reply will be in the same language as the request.

  • If we receive a request for information in a language other than English or Welsh the covering letter for our reply will, where practicable, be in that language.

  • We do not have to obtain information we do not hold. If we think that another public authority holds some or all of the information, we will consult them and you about transferring your request. We will transfer the request if you agree or, if not, we will provide you with contact details for the other public authority.

  • We will always be as open and helpful as possible but will, where appropriate, handle vexatious and repeated requests strictly in line with our legal obligations

  • If we refuse to send you information, we will send a refusal within the legal deadline and tell you about our complaints procedure.

Principle 7: Right of Complaint

We will provide a right of complaint where a member of the public is not satisfied with the response received

  • We will try to provide the information you request and to avoid providing too much or too little. If this does not satisfy your needs, you are encouraged to contact the person who responded to your request to discuss ways of providing the information needed. In many cases, it may be possible to meet your needs without using the complaints procedure.

  • Our Code of Practice on Complaints can be found on our website. Printed copies and advice are available from the Office of the Chief Executive and Clerk.

  • In line with our Code of Practice on Complaints, any complaint that information which should have been provided has not been, will be investigated. The complaints code explains that you should normally complain first to the person who replied to your request. It also sets out the principles of the Code, one of which is courtesy. This principle states that communication must be based on mutual respect, fairness and trust.

  • If, after using our complaints procedures, you are still unhappy with the outcome, you may refer the complaint to the Information Commissioner. Usually, the Commissioner will expect you to have tried our own procedures before investigating your complaint.

Principle 8: Providing Information Free of Charge

We will provide information free of charge where possible

  • Our aim is to avoid charging if we can and, if not, to keep any charges as low as possible. We will use our discretion when deciding whether or not to charge, even if we are legally entitled to charge.

  • We are allowed to charge for information. We charge for some publications (our Publication Scheme shows which).

  • We will only make charges for anything other than publications in exceptional circumstances.

  • We may review this principle in the light of experience.

  • We will also review this principle in the light of any Fees Regulations made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

4 Contacts

4.1 Making requests

Access to information requests should be made to:
Access to information Advisor
National Assembly for Wales
Cardiff Bay
Cardiff
CF99 1NA
Tel 0300 200 6565


Email:
Assembly-Accesstoinformation@assembly.wales

 

4.2 Obtaining Publications

Our Public Information Line can help you find documents published by the National Assembly for Wales. You can contact the Public Information Line on 0300 200 6565 or use our Contact form.

4.3 Booking seats at plenary meetings

You can book seats for meetings held in public by ringing the Public Information line as detailed above, by emailing contact@assembly.wales or use the following e-forms:

4.4 Complaints

You can get advice about the complaints procedures from:
The Office of the Chief Executive and Clerk
National Assembly for Wales
Cardiff Bay
Cardiff
CF99 1NA
Tel 0300 200 6565

Email:
contact@assembly.wales

4.5 Our website

Our website is www.assembly.wales / www.cynulliad.cymru

We publish the agendas, papers and transcripts of plenary and committee meetings and we will also provide information regarding significant disclosures made as a result of access to information requests.

Annex A

Public interest and Substantial Harm Test

The table shows exemption by exemption whether the public interest and substantial harm tests are applied to information falling under the Freedom of Information Act  and environmental information regulations exemptions.

  • If Annexe A shows that an exemption is qualified, and that we will apply the public interest test and the substantial harm test, we will only rely upon the exemption if disclosing the information would cause or be likely to cause substantial harm to the purpose which the exemption aims to protect.  Even if disclosure would cause or be likely to cause such substantial harm, we will not rely upon the exemption unless that harm outweighs the public interest in disclosure of the information;

  • If Annexe A shows that an exemption is qualified, and that we will apply only the public interest test, it means that we will only rely upon the exemption if the public interest in withholding the information for the purpose that the exemption aims to protect, outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information;

  • If Annexe A shows that an exemption is absolute, and that we will apply the substantial harm test, it means that we will only rely on the exemption if disclosing the information would cause or be likely to cause substantial harm to the purpose which the exemption aims to protect;

If Annexe A shows that an exemption is absolute, and that we will apply neither the public interest test nor the substantial harm test, it means that we will rely on that exemption and not disclose the information.

Derived from the Freedom of Information Act 2000

Code of Practice on Public Access to Information | National Assembly for Wales

FoI Act section

Exemption

Absolute or Qualified

Public interest test?

Substantial harm test?

 

21

 

Information accessible to applicant by other means

Absolute

No

No

 

22

 

Information intended for future publication

Qualified

Yes

Yes

 

23

 

Information supplied by, or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters

Absolute

No

No

 

24

 

National Security

Qualified

Yes

Yes, except when a certificate has been issued under S24(3)

 

26

 

Defence

Qualified

Yes

Yes

 

27

 

International relations

Qualified

Yes

Yes

 

28

 

Relations within the United Kingdom

Qualified

Yes

Yes

 

29

 

The economy

Qualified

Yes

Yes

 

30

 

Investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities

Qualified

Yes

No

 

31

 

Law enforcement

Qualified

Yes

Yes

 

32

 

Court records, etc.

Absolute

No

Yes

 

33

 

Audit functions

Qualified

Yes

Yes

 

34

 

Parliamentary privilege

Absolute

No

No

 

35

 

Formulation of government policy, etc.

Qualified

Yes

Yes

 

36

 

Effective conduct of public affairs

Qualified

Yes

No

 

37

 

Communications with Her majesty, etc. and honours

Qualified

Yes

Yes

 

38

 

Health and safety

Qualified

Yes

Yes

 

39

 

Environmental Information

Qualified

Yes

No

 

40 (1)

 

Personal information (about applicant)

Absolute

No

No

 

40 (2)

 

Personal information about others where the circumstances described in section 2(3)(f)(ii) FoIA are the case

Absolute

No

No

 

40 (2)

 

Personal information about others where the circumstances described in section 2(3)(f)(ii) FoIA are not the case

Qualified

Yes

No

 

41

 

Information provided in confidence

Absolute

No

No

 

42

 

Legal professional privilege

Qualified

Yes

Yes

 

43

 

Commercial interests

Qualified

Yes

Yes

 

44

 

Prohibitions on disclosure

Absolute

No

No

Derived from the Environmental Information Regulations

Code of Practice on Public Access to Information | National Assembly for Wales

EIR 2004 regulation

Exception

Public interest test?

Substantial harm test?

 

12 (4) a

 

Information not held when request received

Yes

No

 

12 (4) b

 

Request is manifestly unreasonable

Yes

No

 

12 (4) c

 

Formulated in too general a manner

Yes

No

 

12 (4) d

 

Material is still in course of completion, unfinished documents or incomplete data

Yes

Yes

 

12 (4) e

 

Internal communications

Yes

Yes

 

 

 

 

 

12 (5)   

 

Where disclosure would adversely affect -

 

 

 

12 (5) a

 

International relations, defence, national security or public safety

Yes

Yes

 

12 (5) b

 

Course of justice, fair trial, criminal or disciplinary inquiry

Yes

Yes

 

12 (5) c

 

Intellectual property rights

Yes

Yes

 

12 (5) d

 

Confidentiality of proceedings of a public authority where confidentiality is provided by law

Yes

Yes

 

12 (5) e

 

Confidentiality of commercial or industrial information where confidentiality is provided by law to protect a legitimate economic interest

Yes

Yes

 

12 (5) f

 

Interests of person who provided information where that person:

(i) not under legal obligation to have supplied the information

(ii) did not supply it in circumstances where the public authority is entitled to disclose the information apart from these regulations

(iii) has not consented to disclosure

Yes

Yes

 

12 (5) g

 

Protection of the environment to which the information relates

Yes

No

 

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