Freedom of Information Act 1999
to access info
The Freedom of Information Act, 1999, gives all members
of the public the right of access to information about or
in the possession of public authorities such as a government
ministry, department or statutory body.
This article will deal with the process or procedure by
which members of the public may access information and what
can be done where a request for information is denied.
Your Right to Apply
Under Section 11 of the Act, every person has a right of
access to an official document.
How to Apply
A request may be lodged at any office of the public authority
(from whom you are requesting information) or be sent directly
to the designated officer or head of that public authority.
It is done in writing by filling out a form which can be
obtained from all public authorities or the Freedom of Information
Unit located at Kent House, Maraval.
A request should state whether an applicant simply wishes
to inspect the documents or wishes to have a copy supplied.
There are certain documents which cannot be obtained by
this process. That is, where access to those documents:
contain information which is open to public access, as part
of a public register or otherwise, etc;
contain information which is available for purchase by the
public in accordance with arrangements made by a public
is available for public inspection in a registry maintained
by the Registrar General or other public authority; or
is stored for preservation or safe custody, being a document
which is a duplicate of a document of a public authority.
Obligation of a Public Authority to Assist with Application
Under the Act, a public authority cannot simply refuse a
request on the ground that it fails to comply with the requirements
of the Act; unless there has first been an attempt by that
public authority to consult such an applicant with a view
to ensuring that the request does indeed comply with the
Notification of Approval
or Refusal of Request
A public authority is under an obligation by provisions
of the Act to take reasonable steps to enable an applicant
to be notified of the approval or refusal of his request
as soon as practicable (not later than 30 days after the
day on which the request has been made).
Approval of request
Where the request has been approved, the public authority
is under an obligation to immediately give access of the
document to the applicant. So that an applicant would then
have the right to either:
inspect the records;
receive a photocopy or transcript; or
view or hear the information depending on the request that
Is a fee required?
Generally, no fee is required for the making of a request
for access to an official document. However, where access
to an official document is to be given in the form of printed
copies, or copies in some other form, such as on tape, disk,
film or other material, the applicant will be required to
pay a prescribed fee.
Refusal of request
The Act gives a public authority the power to refuse a request
without having processed the application or request, if
the public authority is satisfied that:
(a) the request or application is made by, or on behalf
of, a person who, on at least one previous occasion, has
made a request or application to the public authority for
access to the same documents;
(b) the request or application was refused and the High
Court, on reviewing the decision to refuse the request or
application, confirmed the decision; and
(c) there are no reasonable grounds for making the request
or application again.
A public authority also has the power to refuse a request
without the request having been processed where it is satisfied
that the work involved in processing the request would substantially
and unreasonably divert its resources from its other operations.
Of course, this is conditional on the ground that before
refusing to provide information on these grounds the authority
has taken reasonable steps to assist the applicant to reformulate
the application so as to avoid causing such interference.
In any event where a request is refused so that an applicant
is denied access to information, the applicant is entitled
to a notice from the authority of the reasons for such refusal.
This notice should contain:
the reasons for the decision;
where the decision relates to a public authority, the name
and designation of the person giving the decision.
Information about available remedies (dealt with under the
next heading) should also be given.
Access to information may be denied where a request is made
for access to an exempt document.
However while such a request will be refused: if it is practicable
for the public authority to grant access to a copy of the
document; with such deletions as to make the copy not an
exempt document; and the applicant would wish to have access
to such a copy, the public authority shall give the applicant
access to such a copy of the document.
What remedies are available where a request has been
(1) Complaint to the Ombudsman:
A complaint in writing can be made to the Ombudsman within
21days of receiving notice of the refusal.
The Ombudsman, after examining the document if it exists,
may make such recommendations with respect to the granting
of access to the document as he thinks fit.
A public authority is required to consider the recommendations
of the Ombudsman and, to such extent as it thinks fit, exercise
its discretion in giving effect to the recommendations.
(2) Judicial Review:
A person aggrieved by a decision of a public authority to
refuse a request may apply to the High Court for judicial
review of that decision.
The application is usually heard and determined by a judge
in Chambers, unless the court, with the consent of the parties,
Maharaj and Westmin JamesThis article sets out general guidelines.
All legal rules have exceptions and variations. How the
law applies to you depends on the facts of your case.
This column is an initiative of the Trinidad Guardian and
the Law Association with assistance from students of the
Hugh Wooding Law School.