Home / View Point / Letters to the Editor / Dear Editor: AG Al-Rawi is creating a wedge for persons using the FOIA

Dear Editor: AG Al-Rawi is creating a wedge for persons using the FOIA

“What the AG seeks to accomplish is put a wedge between persons requesting information and the public body holding the relevant information, that wedge being himself.

“He clearly strokes his own ego as the person who knows best whether the information comes under FOIA or not, thus usurping the role of the courts.”

The following Letter to the Editor on a proposed change to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was submitted to Wired868 by Mohan Ramchitar of Birmingham:

Photo: Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.

With respect to the Miscellaneous Provisions (Tax Amnesty, Pensions, Freedom of Information, National Insurance, Central Bank and Non-Profit Organisations) Bill, 2019 Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi is playing smart with foolishness, when he said, ‘a simple extension of time will avoid millions of dollars of wasted taxpayers’ expenses’.
A simple analysis, no great leap of logical or critical thinking required, shows the utter idiocy of that statement.

First, if a request for information has been made from a public body and the body can’t fulfil this within 30 days, there is absolutely no reason in which the body can’t ask for an extension of time in writing from the person requesting the information. I refer to paragraph 28 of the Privy Council’s judgment in Singh v Public Service Commission (Trinidad and Tobago) – [2019] UKPC 18 (13 May 2019):

“…there is an applicable pre-action protocol, namely the pre-action protocol for administrative orders in Appendix D to the (Pre-Action Protocol Practice Direction) PAP PD. It contains clear directions as to the content of the letter in response, namely that, normally, it should use the standard format at Annex B, which requires a statement whether the issue in question is conceded in part or in full or will be contested, whether requested information will be disclosed and a requirement for reasons (see para 5).

In cases where a full response cannot be provided in time para 3.2 of Appendix D requires the respondent to send an interim reply, to seek a reasonable extension of time, and to give reasons why that extension is sought.”

That takes care of the ‘simple extension of time’ nonsense.

As to saving ‘millions. That is a non-starter of an argument. The AG is no final arbiter of whether information requested falls under the FOIA. That remains the domain of the Courts, as plainly reiterated by the Privy Council in Maharaj v National Energy Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (Trinidad and Tobago) [2019] UKPC 5 (30 January 2019) and Maharaj v Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Ltd (Trinidad and Tobago) [2019] UKPC 21 (20 May 2019).

Photo: Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi (right) shares his views at the Transparency Institute anti-corruption conference on 8 March 2016.
(Copyright Shaun Rambaran/forge.co.tt)

What the AG seeks to accomplish is put a wedge between persons requesting information and the public body holding the relevant information, that wedge being himself. He clearly strokes his own ego as the person who knows best whether the information comes under FOIA or not, thus usurping the role of the courts.

Another point to note that the time limit for bringing judicial review is three months, so by extending the time with this ‘wedge’, he effectively debars judicial review in the Courts, as any action going to him will fall outside of the statutory limit. One wonders also which public body will say to itself, ‘this matter is not for the AG, we will go ahead and provide the information’.

I foresee every single request under FOIA is a potential matter for the AG, if only for approval and compliance.

Clearly, the AG is advocating ‘competence creep’ and a sly dictatorship for his office.

About Mohan Ramcharan

Mohan Ramcharan is a law student and a student of human nature and culture, who prefers cool logic to emotional ranting. A Trinidadian living in England, he observes the world through two lenses—and strives to share both views in his writing.

Check Also

Dear Editor: Crowne is wrong; Archie should face tribunal

“If the Chief Justice must accept defeat gracefully, it should have been done long ago. …