History of the Freedom of Information Act 2000

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Before 2005

  • The Campaign for Freedom of Information has a great timeline of how the FOI Act came about, and was instrumental in campaigning for its introduction [1]

John Major's Information Revolution

The predecessor to the Freedom of Information Act was the "Code of Practice on Access to Government Information", this was introduced by John Major's government and came into force on the 4th of April 1994. Between 1994 and the coming into force of the FOIA in January 2005 the scope of the code of practice increased to cover about 150 bodies. Contact web, email and postal addresses were published for each organisation. [2] While John Major reportedly was very keen on an "information revolution" in Government, his ministers were not so keen. Public awareness of the code was low and while its operation was regulated by an Ombudsman, the "Commissioner for Administration" it was criticised for being weak.

Hansard for the period 1994-2005 contains many examples of answers to Parliamentary questions being refused, with ministers pointing to exemptions included in the code. There are similarities between the exemptions in the code and those now present in the FOIA.

John Major's moves towards freedom of information were one of the key parts of a wider initiative - the "Citizen's Charter". [3]


  • 28 May - Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 receives Royal Assent[4]


Environmental Information Regulations 2004 are passed.


  • The FOI Act came into effect on 1st Jan 2005.
  • Additional bodies were added by secondary legislation [5]


The secondary legislation enacting the nationalisation of Northern Rock, a major UK bank and mortgage provider, exempted the newly nationalised bank from the provisions of the FOIA. [6]


  • MP's were due to vote to prevent publication of their expenses on Friday 18th January 2009 - thanks to opposition from the public this enormous backwards step in transparency of public affairs was stopped - see MPs voting against publication of their expenses.
  • Further extension of the Act to include other public authorities is due to be announced in Summer 2009.