Q1 What is the Code on Access to Information (“the Code”)?

The Code provides a formal administrative framework for the provision of information by the Government to members of the public with the objective of keeping the community well informed about the Government, the services it provides and the basis for policies and decisions that affect individuals and the community as a whole. The Code was introduced, initially on a pilot scheme basis, in March 1995 and was extended progressively to the whole of the Government and some public bodies in December 1996.

The Code defines the scope of information which departments are to provide, either routinely or on request, and sets out procedures and timeframes by which such information is to be made available. It authorises and requires departments to provide access to the information requested unless there are reasons for not so doing. These reasons are set out in Part 2 of the Code and should normally be referred to if a request for access to information is refused.

Q2 Which organisations are covered by the Code?

The Code applies to all Government bureaux and departments. Apart from them, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, all registries and administrative offices of courts and tribunals for which the Judiciary Administrator has responsibility are also covered by the Code. A full list of these public agencies is at Annex A of the Code.

Q3 Who can make a request for information under the Code?

The general rule is that any person, whether or not a Hong Kong resident, can make requests for information under the Code. Where a request is for records about oneself or a related person, or information provided previously by the applicant to the department concerned, documentary proof of the applicant’s identity may be required to ensure there is no improper disclosure of the information to a third party.

Q4 What information may be sought under the Code?

A request under the Code may be made for any information relating to the department’s policies, services, decisions and other matters falling within its area of responsibility. It is important to note, however, that the Code does not oblige departments to acquire information not in their possession, to create a record which does not exist, to provide on request information which is already published (either free or at a charge), or to provide information available through an existing charged service. Please see also the 16 exemptions specifying the types of information disclosure of which may be withheld.

Summary descriptions of the nature of information requested and released under the Code can be found in disclosure logs in the “Access to Information” section of departments’ websites.

Q5 On what grounds the departments can withhold the disclosure of requested information in accordance with the Code?

Departments may decide to refuse a request for information if there is/are valid reason(s) to withhold disclosure under the exemption provision(s) in Part 2 of the Code. The 16 exemptions include –

  • Defence and Security;
  • External Affairs;
  • Nationality, Immigration and Consular Matters;
  • Law Enforcement, Legal Proceedings and Public Safety;
  • Damage to the Environment;
  • Management of the Economy;
  • Management and Operation of the Public Service;
  • Internal Discussion and Advice;
  • Public Employment and Public Appointments;
  • Improper Gain or Advantage;
  • Research, Statistics and Analysis;
  • Third Party Information;
  • Privacy of the Individual;
  • Business Affairs;
  • Premature Requests;
  • Legal Restrictions.

For more information about the exemptions, please refer to the Code and its Guidelines on Interpretation and Application.

When a request for information is to be refused or partially refused, the applicant will be informed of the reasons for refusal quoting all the relevant paragraph(s) in Part 2 of the Code on which the refusal is based with appropriate elaboration.

Q6 Are there any charges for processing a request for information?

Yes. Successful applicants for access to information should normally be charged for the cost of reproducing the required documents, etc. at the current standard charge where one exists.

Applicants are required to pay the standard charge regardless of whether the required documents are obtained by the applicants in person or by their representatives or sent by post, by local fax or despatched by any other means. Applicants will be informed in advance how much they will have to pay for copies of documents they are seeking. Information will not be released until the requisite payment has been made.

Q7 Can I ask a department to compile information for me?

The Code does not oblige departments to acquire information not in their possession or create a record which does not exist. According to paragraph 1.13 of the Code, so far as possible, information will be provided in the form in which it exists. If information requested is recorded in the form of a document in a single language or in a particular format, that is the form in which the information should be provided by the department under the Code.

Q8 What is the target response time in handling a request for information?

The department should respond to the information request within 10 days of receiving the request as far as possible. If an extension of the processing time is necessary, an interim reply will be issued. In exceptional circumstances where the processing time will exceed 21 days, an explanation should be given to the applicant. Any extension necessary should be kept to a minimum and the total processing time should not normally exceed 51 days.

Q9 If I am not satisfied with the department’s handling of my request for information, what are the available channels for me to follow up the case?

Any person who believes that a department has failed to comply with any provision of the Code may ask the department to review the situation. Any request for review will be considered by a directorate officer at least one rank senior to the officer who made the original decision.

Alternatively, a complaint to The Ombudsman may be lodged. This may be done whether or not the case has been reviewed within the department.