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Tribunals to rule on disputes over re-use of public sector information

Information rights tribunals will be able to provide binding rulings on public bodies' re-use of non-personal information under new plans unveiled by the UK government.

The National Archives, which is an agency with the Ministry of Justice, said that involving the information rights tribunals was one way to ensure UK regulations implement new EU rules on public sector information re-use. The European Commission issued guidance earlier this year to help public sector bodies adhere to those rules.

A new EU directive finalised last year contains measures aimed at freeing up information held by public sector bodies for re-use. It updates a previous EU directive on the same subject and includes provisions that require EU countries to give organisations and individuals a right to appeal against decisions public sector bodies take in relation to whether information they hold can be re-used and over the charges or conditions imposed on that re-use.

The National Archives said that the UK's existing regulations on the re-use of public sector information need to be updated to reflect this and other provisions contained in the new EU directive.

According to its plans, appeals would first be investigated by the Office of Public Sector Information, part of The National Archives, and could be referred to an information rights tribunal "for a legally binding decision".

This new procedure "provides a level of continuity and is a proportionate and cost effective option" and "provides legal certainty and assurance in delivering binding decisions through an independent judicial tribunal" without adding to the case load faced by UK courts, the National Archives said.

Under the new EU directive, public bodies are generally barred from charging for the re-use of public sector information above "the marginal costs incurred for their reproduction, provision and dissemination".

However, some exceptions to this rule apply and EU countries are required to set out "objective, transparent and verifiable criteria" public bodies should refer to for calculating the total charges they can charge to ensure they do not "exceed the cost of collection, production, reproduction and dissemination, together with a reasonable return on investment", as is required under the directive.

The National Archives said that it is looking for stakeholder views on what criteria should be applied. The consultation closes on 7 October.

"Transparency and economic growth are key priorities for the government," the National Archives said in its consultation paper. "Enabling the re-use of public sector information contributes to the government’s commitment to transparency and openness by creating a more open flow of information available for business and the public to use and re-use in products and services." 

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