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Freedom of Information Act by September

The long awaited Freedom of Information Act will finally come into force in September, almost four years after it was approved in Parliament.

Although parts of the Act were introduced in 2009 and 2010, the bulk of the law was frozen until hundreds of government employees could be properly trained to handle public requests for information.

Justice Minister Chris Said yesterday committed to publishing a legal notice before next week stipulating that the entire Act must be brought into force on September 1.

This would set a clear deadline so that any preparations that still need to be done would have a definitive conclusion date, he added.

“The implementation of this Act is not easy. It is totally new for Malta that whoever wants can ask for information from any public entity,” he said.

Giving a round-up of his work in the Justice, Family and Public Dialogue Ministry, Dr Said also gave details of other Bills that have seen countless delays.

He said he had reached the April deadline he gave himself to finalise the draft IVF and “civil partnership” laws, but both these still had to be approved by Cabinet and the PN parliamentary group before being submitted to Parliament.

The IVF law is already starting to be discussed by Cabinet, he said, while that on civil partnerships – until recently referred to as the cohabitation law – was yet to be discussed.

Asked if the two Bills would be introduced before the next election, Dr Said was noncommittal and made reference to the ongoing political crisis that has raised questions about the possibility of an early election.

“It depends when the next election is held,” he said. Dr Said also elaborated on the government’s plans to set up a Drugs Court, saying an “interesting proposal” for first-time drug possession offences would soon be issued for public consultation.

The plans were drawn up by the National Commission on the Abuse of Drugs, Alcohol and Other Dependencies and have already been approved by Cabinet.

“Victims” of drug abuse, he said, would be given the choice whether to appear in court or before a board that would provide “help” without tainting their criminal records.

Asked about another highly anticipated law on party financing, Dr Said referred to the Private Member’s Bill recently presented by Nationalist MP Franco Debono. He described this as a “good” Bill that incorporated the work of several experts.

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