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Understanding the Access to Information Act

The Access to Information (ATI) Act, 2002 promotes transparency in government and encourages public participation in governance by giving everyone a legal right to access government information.

Under the ATI Act, all persons have a right to access official documents held by government entities. This does not include personal information about individuals or specific sensitive government information.  You can apply to access information held by any government body once it relates to that entity’s functions.

For example, you can access official government documents, correspondence such as letters and emails, budgets, expenditure, computerized records, maps, audio files, videos, photos, and more.

Under the ATI Act, it is a crime to hide, destroy or tamper with any information that the public has a right to access with the intention of preventing disclosure. Anyone who does this can be fined up to $500,000 or sentenced to six months imprisonment, or both.

Making Requests:

Requests can be made to government Ministries, Executive Agencies and other Statutory bodies, Parish Councils, government-owned companies and companies in which Government holds at least 50% shares. You can submit an ATI request:

  • By sending your request in an email, physical letter or fax
  • By phone
  • By submitting the ATI Request Form electronically or physically

The Request Process

  • Submit your request to the person responsible for ATI at any government entity. Give as much information as possible and state if you would like to view it or receive a copy.
  • The government entity must inform you in writing that your request has been received. 
  • Within 30 days of sending your request, the government entity must let you know if access to the information will be granted. If access cannot be granted, they must tell you what sections of the ATI Act make the information you requested exempt.
  • Sometimes agencies will request more time to search for the requested information. These extensions must be for good reasons and cannot be for more than 30 days.

You do NOT have to give a reason for requesting information under the ATI Act

How is information received?

Generally, information is given to you in the form you requested it. You can view, listen to, inspect or receive a copy of the information.

The ATI Act allows entities to charge you for the cost of making copies of certain official documents. There are specific regulations that set the fees (see the Access to Information (Cost for Reproduction of Official Documents) Regulations 2003). For example, as at January 2020, it costs $10 per page to photocopy documents.

Information that cannot be accessed:

  • Personal information about individuals
  • Cabinet documents (such as Cabinet Submissions and Decisions) that have not been published.
  • Information that would threaten the national security
  • Confidential information from foreign governments or that would harm international relations
  • Documents that would be exempt during legal proceedings or violate a court’s order
  • Information that would threaten the Jamaican economy or someone’s business affairs
  • Confidential documents held by Parliament

Remember: You are NOT entitled to the private and business affairs of other individuals!

Challenging a decision made about your request

You have the right to challenge a decision if:

  • Your request was denied or not responded to
  • Your request was only partially granted
  • Your request to amend/update a personal record was denied
  • There was an excessive charge for obtaining the document

You can challenge the decision by requesting an internal review within the government entity or by appealing to the ATI Appeals Tribunal. You do not need a lawyer to do this.

Option 1: Submitting a request for internal review:

  • Request an internal review in writing within 30 days of the decision you are challenging. Explain why the decision was wrong. If your request was not responded to, you may request an internal review within 30 days of when the response was due.
  • The government entity must conduct the internal review and tell you the decision within 30 days of receiving the request.
  • You may challenge the decision of the internal review by appealing to the ATI Appeals Tribunal.
  • Internal reviews are normally conducted by the Permanent Secretary in a ministry, the head of a government entity, or in some cases, the responsible Minister.

Option 2: Appealing to the ATI Tribunal

  • You may appeal any decision during the ATI process by submitting a Notice of Appeal Form to the ATI Tribunal. You can appeal any decision once it is made if you decide not to request an internal review.
  • Appeals are heard by a five-member tribunal called the Access to Information Appeal Tribunal with the power to make binding decisions.
  • Appeals must be made within 60 days of the decision you are challenging or, if you did not receive a response to your request, within 60 days of when you should have received the response
  • The ATI Tribunal may schedule a hearing to consider the appeal and has the power to inspect any document in question. If you desire, you may be represented by an attorney-at-law before the Tribunal.
  • The ATI Tribunal is governed by the 2005 ATI Tribunal Rules

Under the ATI Act, it is the responsibility of the government entity to prove why its decision is justified. The government bears the burden of proof, not the public!