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PATI delay ‘just a way of putting it off’

Bermuda's freedom of information law will have taken almost five years to implement when it comes into effect on April 1 — a delay described as “not reasonable” by a human rights lawyer.

Toby Mendel, who analysed the Island's draft Public Access to Information (PATI) bill before it was passed into law in July 2010, told The Royal Gazette: “It is not reasonable to allow for a five-year period for an access to information law to come into effect.

“Even a two-year delay, which is relatively common, is unduly long in my view, since it just doesn't take public authorities that long to get ready to implement such a law. A five-year delay is just a way of putting off implementation.”

Mr Mendel, executive director of the Centre for Law and Democracy in Canada, said it was good that Premier Michael Dunkley had pledged to bring the “until now open delay” to an end.

PATI was first promised by Progressive Labour Party Premier Alex Scott in 2003 but a bill didn't go before legislators for another seven years, finally getting the approval of the House of Assembly on July 23, 2010.

Then Premier Ewart Brown told MPs that evening that the public could expect the legislation to be implemented within two to three years. His successor Paula Cox promised that it would come into force in the second half of 2012.

After the One Bermuda Alliance became Government in December 2012, new Premier Craig Cannonier said staff would be hired in the fiscal year 2013/14. He was replaced by Mr Dunkley in May, who has now set a date of April 1 for implementation.

Asked why freedom of information had taken so long to enact, a Cabinet spokeswoman said: “Regarding the length of time taken for the bill to come into force, those queries are better posed to the Opposition.”

She added that Parliament would debate amendments to the PATI Act 2010 and PATI regulations in the House on Friday.

The Cayman Islands took less than two years to implement its freedom of information law, while the UK took five years from the legislation being passed in Parliament.

Mr Mendel said: “The UK was the one other example of a long delay — mostly countries don't go beyond two years.”

He claimed the British Government did little to prepare for the law coming into force until the last six months before enactment.

Photo by MarkTatem ¬ Toby Mendel

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Published July 15, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated July 15, 2014 at 11:22 am)

PATI delay ‘just a way of putting it off’

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