Bangor University's Freedom of Information Clause
The University has decided to adopt a policy of best practice in ensuring that as far as possible, the University’s standard Freedom of Information clause is inserted into all contracts relating to the University and its wholly-owned subsidiaries.
The clause simply states that the University (and its subsidiaries) are subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Where a Freedom of Information request involves, or may involve third party confidential information, the University will notify the third party. The clause offers the opportunity to third party to provide any comments in relation to the request in a certain time period. This time period is important, as under the legislation, the University is required to respond to the request within 20 working days.
The insertion or omission of the clause does not change the fact that the University is subject to the legislation. The clause simply seeks to ensure transparency and to ensure that the University does not breach any confidentiality undertakings in its mandatory compliance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
The final decision to disclose or not must rest with the University rather than the third party as any enforcement, by way of fines or otherwise, will be against the University rather than the third party. However, this is not to say that the University will not take reasonable comments from the third party into account. To the contrary, the University will respect the importance of installing confidence in any partner so as to ensure Freedom of Information does not alienate third parties from working with the University in the future. For this reason, the University has prepared the Third Party Guidance Note to show how any disagreement between the University and the third party in relation to a proposed release of information will be dealt with. Hopefully the Guidance Note will show that before any disclosure, there is an escalating procedure at which the third party can make their objections known, the procedure taking them up to the Vice Chancellor. The ultimate challenge the third party can make involves a court injunction to prevent disclosure. This is something that neither party would want to bear the costs of and so would be only be a last resort.
There are occasions when a third party has their own Freedom of Information clause, for example, another academic institution. In such situation, the clauses need to be looked at on a case by case basis by the Finance Office as part of the wider contract review process.
Whilst the starting point is always to request the insertion of the standard clause into all contracts, on a practical basis this is not always possible. In the event that the third party is unwilling to insert a separate Freedom of Information clause, for example on the basis that they feel it is covered adequately by the exemptions to confidentiality, any request to enter into a contract without an express Freedom of Information clause shall be made to the Pro Vice Chancellor of Research & Enterprise, who shall consult with a member of the Legal Compliance Task Group. It will be expected that any such request will carefully detail what attempts have been made to insert the standard clause and why its insertion is unrealistic. It is also hoped that the issue of Freedom of Information in contracts is raised early on in the contract negotiation stage and not last minute when all other matters have been finalised.
If you have any questions or comments about Freedom of Information and contracts or Freedom of Information generally, please contact the Head of Governance and Compliance, firstname.lastname@example.org.