Thursday, November 24, 2005

Notices served by ICO/MP appeals

I recently made the following request to the ICO:

-Full details of all appeals (S50 FOIA applications for decisions) under the Freedom of Information Act made by Westminster MPs since January 2005
-Guidance for ICO staff in dealing with appeals by Westminster MPs
-Full details of all information notices (s51 FOIA) served on public authorities since January 2005
-Full details of all enforcement notices (S52 FOIA) served on public authorities since January 2005
-Full details of all practice recommendations (S48 FOIA) issued to public authorities since January 2005
-Full details of all preliminary decision notices (under S21 of the Freedom of Information Memorandum of Understanding) issued to public authorities since January 2005

The response:
"The spreadsheet lists details of appeals under s.50 of the Freedom of Information Act brought by MPs, Information Notices served, and Preliminary Decision notices served under the Memorandum of Understanding. The names of all complainants have been redacted. Referring to part two of your request, we do not have any guidance for ICO staff on dealing with appeals from MPs. In reference to parts five and six we have not served any Enforcement Notices or Practice Recommendations under the FOI Act."

-Download spreadsheet
-They also sent details of their review process

Some of this information will be discussed in two detailed papers next year, but I thought it was useful to put into the public domain now.

Some comments:

-It would seem unclear why so few preliminary decision notices have been issued when so many cases have been filed against central government and so few full few S50 decision notices have also been served.
-The power to use information notices has been rarely used (5 times) -is there too much acceptance of public authority claims related to circumstances surrounding a appeal? and is informal negiotiation taking place removing the need for many information notices to be served ?
-All these notices should be published in some form on the ICO site to offer a clear audit trail and show public authorities the ICO are willing to use all the powers in the FOIA
-No information notices have been served since April
-MPs' names have been witheld - in my view they are working in a public capacity and I will appeal this
-Why have no practices notices been formally issued and published? this would seem to be an excellent opportunity to spread best practice. I have since been told by another public authority that in correspondence the ICO are giving practice advice but not formally issuing notices. Whilst this might be suitable in some scenarios it seems a waste not to share and document these issues formally. I will be requesting this type of correspondence.
-It is suprising that 11 months in and over 1000 appeals made that not one enforcement notice has been issued
-I will appeal and ask for full details of the cases listed (e.g the actual requests)

I'm aware that some of the comments above may require further evidence to gain the full picture and I will be making further requests to the ICO.

Whilst I accept that the ICO has a tough job and wants to work in practical way to resolve cases I feel that 2006 will need to be the year that the ICO uses all powers available decisively.

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