Letter: Our right to know

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Last week the Government rejected key elements of the Macpherson report's recommendations on freedom of information and the police. As MPs debate the report today, they should consider the implications.

Macpherson recommended that all police information should be covered by the proposed Freedom of Information Act, with no class of information excluded wholesale. The Government proposes to exclude all information obtained during police investigations from the Act's scope. That exclusion is narrower than originally proposed, but still excessive.

Macpherson proposed that decisions on whether to release other information should depend on whether disclosure would cause "substantial harm". The Government says only that "an appropriate harm test" - almost certainly lower - will be applied.

The result will be that the victims of crime will be unable to use the Freedom of Information Act to discover what the police knew about the matter and how adequately they responded. Evidence of the kind of incompetence so thoroughly documented in the Macpherson report will largely be shielded from scrutiny.

The thrust of Macpherson was that, to restore public confidence, freedom of information should apply to the police as to any other public authority. Can we afford to fall short of that objective?