Response to the Consultation Paper on Access to Information Law

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Hong Kong Journalists Association 香港記者協會
Hong Kong Journalists Association 香… signed this petition

To: Law Reform Commission of Hong Kong,
Access to Information Law Sub-committee,
4/F, East Wing, Justice Place, 18 Low Albert Road, Central, Hong Kong
or hklrc@hkreform.gov.hk

A legislation to ensure public access to information held by public bodies is the foundation of an accountable and clean government. More than 100 countries, both developing and developed, have introduced such a law. Hong Kong has not.

The public has therefore been kept in the dark on the decision not to take legal actions against ex-Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for accepting money from UGL; the Lamma Ferry disaster; lead contamination in tap water of public housing estates and the firing of tear gas during the Occupy Movement. These can only be prevented when public officers know their decisions will be eventually made public. Hong Kong needs an access to information law to protect human lives and public money!

After more than 20 years of calls from the civic society, the Law Reform Commission has released its consultation paper on the introduction of access to information law. Members of the public are invited to submit their opinion before March 5.

Response to the Consultation Paper on Access to Information Law

I/WE therefore submit that:

1.    A comprehensive Access to Information Law must be enacted without delay. It should enshrine the following principles:

•      Principle 1 – Access to Information is a constitutional right to be exercised on a fair and equal basis. It must not be compromised for costs.

•      Principle 2 – Access to information must be guided by the principle of maximum disclosure, which is presumed unless rebutted by any legitimate reason under the law.

2.    The Access to Information Law must include the following terms which establish:

•      Clear and simple procedures with specific response time as well as consistent practice to ensure rapid and fair processing so that members of the public are not deterred from making access requests because of excessive costs (Response to Recommendation 1 and 2);

•      A legal obligation for all public entities covered by the Law to promote open government which includes the establishment of proper record-keeping systems; proactive disclosure of key information and indexes to records; and assistance for the public in locating and retrieving the required information (Response to Recommendation 5);

•      Covering all government agencies as well as organisations that are substantially funded by public money or perform key public services with clear criteria in defining these organisations and a progressive implementation schedule (Response to Recommendation 5).

•      Clear and narrowly defined exemptions; public interests test in making access decisions; and no permanent withholding of information (Response to Recommendation 10, 11 and 12);

•      Statutory Rights to access public archives according to international best practices of 20 years (Response to Recommendation 13);

•      An Information Commission under professional leadership with independent enforcement powers and clear responsibilities in monitoring the Law’s implementation in various public bodies and in reviewing appeals; and an independent and well represented body to oversee the commission’s operation (Response to Recommendation 16);

•      Statutory Rights to access public archives according to international best practices of 20 years (Response to Recommendation 13);

•      Clear and simple procedures with specific response time as well as consistent practice to ensure rapid and fair processing so that members of the public are not deterred from making access requests because of excessive costs (Response to Recommendation 1 and 2);

•      Legal penalty for violation and non-compliance (Response to Recommendation 18 and 19);

•      Covering all government agencies as well as organisations that are substantially funded by public money or perform key public services with clear criteria in defining these organisations and a progressive implementation schedule (Response to Recommendation 5).

Therefore, we disagree with the following proposals:

• To further widen the coverage of exemptions

• To refuse application that will take more than 15 working hours to process (Response to Recommendation 7);

• To give the Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary and Attorney General the power to override all appeal decisions outside the judiciary system (Response to Recommendation 14);

• To make the Office of the Ombudsman an appeal body instead of an independent entity with statutory power to order the government to comply (Response to Recommendation 16);  

• To give the Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary and Attorney General the power to override all appeal decisions outside the judiciary system (Response to Recommendation 14);