In an effort to improve governmental accountability, transparency and public participation in national decision-making and in keeping with global trends the Government of Jamaica passed the Access to Information Act in June 2002.
This legislation gives a general right of access to members of the public to official documents held by government organizations. These include Government Ministries, Agencies and Departments, Statutory Bodies, Parish Councils, wholly-owned Government companies or those in which the Government has more than 50% shares and publicly-funded educational institutions.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What are my rights under The Access To Information Act?
The Access to Information (ATI) Act gives you the legal right to see official documents held by Government Bodies. You may also ask for personal information to be changed if it is incomplete, misleading, out of date or incorrect.
What are official documents?
Official Documents are documents in the possession, custody or control of a government body and which are connected to its functions.
Can I see all official documents?
No. There are documents, which are exempt from disclosure under the Access to Information Act. These are documents which, it is believed, should not be disclosed in order to protect essential public interests or the private/business affairs of others. Similar statutes internationally recognize these concerns as well and make similar provisions.
Some exempt documents are, however, subject to public interest tests. Release of exempt documents may also be achieved through an Order of the Minister responsible for Information or after the expiration of twenty (20) years after their creation, or such shorter or longer period as the Minister may specify by Order.
What are the types of documents, which are exempt from disclosure?
Documents pertaining to:
- Security, Defense, International Relations (S. 14 [a])
- The Cabinet (S. 15)
- Law Enforcement (S. 16)
- Legal Privilege (S. 17)
- The National Economy (S. 18)
- Government’s deliberative processes (S. 19)
- Business affairs of others (trade secrets, etc.) (S. 20)
- Heritage sites (S. 21)
- Personal privacy (S. 22)
How do I make an Access To Information request?
Identify the document you wish to have access to and the government body most likely to have it.
Write/phone in/e-mail or fax your request giving as much information as possible about the document in order to help the Officer assigned for those purposes to quickly retrieve it.
Include contact information, which will allow the Officer responsible for ATI applications to remain in contact with you. This will assist the Officer in obtaining clarifications from you and enable the observance of the timeline (30 days from receipt of the Application) prescribed for finding and granting access as the case may be.
Forwarding requests to The Ministry Health:
What must a government entity do when it gets my request?
- Inform you in writing that it has received your request.
- Deal with the application as quickly as possible and inform you of any difficulties being experienced. This will help both parties in possibly coming to a mutual workable understanding, particularly if the request is a complex one (eg. large volume of documents requested) or where it will take longer than the prescribed time allowed within which to find the document.
- Inform you within thirty (30) days of receipt of the Application whether or not the information will be disclosed and grant access or inform you of your rights of appeal, as the case may be.
How much will it cost me?
Fees are payable for the reproduction of documents. You are not required to pay if you wish to view, inspect or listen to the document. The cost for reproduction may be obtained by clicking on the applicable link in the ‘relevant documents’ section below.
How will the documents be given to me?
Generally, in the form in which you request it. You may be allowed to view, listen to, inspect or be given a copy of the document. However, access may be given in a form other than that which you have requested if there is a need to preserve the document or its physical state makes the form of access requested inappropriate.
Can I have documents about me corrected??
Yes, provided they have been, or are being used, by the government body for an administrative purpose.
How do I ask for these corrections about me to be done?
You apply by letter or on the prescribed application form, phone in, e-mail or fax your request.
What kinds of appeal do I have?
The grounds on which you have the right to appeal include:
- Refusal of grant of access
- The grant of access to only some of the documents requested
- Deferral of the grant of access
- Refusal to amend or annotate a personal record
- The charging of, or amount of, a fee
What are the offences or penalties under the act?
Under the Act, a Government employee commits an offence if:
- He/she alters or defaces, blocks or erases, destroys or conceals an official document to which the public has right of access, with the intention of preventing its disclosure.
- A fine of a maximum of five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000.00) or six (6) months imprisonment or both are applicable.