Thursday, December 22, 2005

Al-Jazeera memo

I received this reply today from the Cabinet Office in reponse to my request for the memo. As expected an exemption has been used (S27 -International relations) The response is at least within the 20 day limit and there is a public interest consideration of sorts and they do admit they hold the information. I will request an internal review.

Download the letter (PDF)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Radio 4

I believe FOI will feature on the Radio 4 programme "You and Yours" early in the new year (possibly the 4th)
Merry Xmas and Happy New Year

Today's posts will be the last for 2005 as I plan to take a break from the blog for a few weeks over the festive period, it will return with all the usual features plus a review of 2005 early in the new year. Thanks to everyone for supporting the blog in 2005, this year the blog had over 71,000 page views, double the figure for 2004.

Please do email me (steve_wood62@hotmail.com) with any news or information that crops up over the festive period.

I'm also interested to receive any views and comments on the first year of the FOIA being in force. Email or add as a comment below

Regards

Steve
Media update -last for 2005!

National news


Independent - Cherie Booth QC earned £210,000 from BCCI case
"Cherie Booth QC has been paid more than £236,000 in public money for her work as a barrister since Labour came to power in 1997. The figures, released under a Freedom of Information request, show that she also received £210,000 in legal fees for representing the staff of the collapsed Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) between 1997 and 1999."

Local news

Kent Messenger- New light shed on head teacher's shock exit
"Documents released by Kent County Council to the Kent Messenger under the Freedom of Act shed more light on the background to her departure and reveal that staff disquiet stretched back more than a year.The documents show that union representatives first raised concerns about the school’s management and leadership in February 2004. Partially-released minutes of a meeting attended by 50 members of staff indicate both teachers and support staff were unhappy about declining school discipline, low morale, high staff turnover, poor communication and a failure to consult over changes such as a new school uniform."

Norwich Evening News - We're not getting in party spirit
"When the Evening News launched an investigation to find out how much councils stumped up for Christmas parties we expected a catalogue of expensive turkeys and tinsel. But a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to discover if taxpayers were footing the bill for revelling civil servants revealed just the opposite - some are not even having a festive party at all."

Nigeria

This Day - Senate Defers Passage of FOI Bill
"The Senate yesterday deferred the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill till January, when the upper legislative body will resume plenary session, to enable its Committee on Information perform a concise review of the bill and reconcile areas of disagreement."
Scotland: Aid payouts to be disclosed

The Press and Journal (Scotland) report that:"The Scottish Executive is to publicly disclose all subsidy payments made to the country's farmers for the first time in more than 40 years....But he is stopping short of the full disclosure that many had hoped for. Instead just the name of the farming business and the executive's area office which processed the payment will be disclosed.There will be no addresses of the farming businesses receiving the cash revealed, leaving it to the public and journalists to guess who is getting what."

The Scottish Executive had previously refused to release the full information (even though it had been released for England (see the Guardian story from earlier this year and the Rural Payments Agency website). The case is listed as case no. 200500841 on the Scottish ICO appeals log as "Individual agricultural support payments". The Scottsih IC has yet to make his decision.

As I understand at present the data has not been released for Wales.

The issue will arise again in 2005 when some journalists make new applications for the data under The Single Payment Scheme (SPS), this was introduced by EC Council Regulation 1782/2003, and replaced most existing crop and livestock payments from 1 January 2005 (see the Rural Payments Agency website for details). The RPA website offers this statement of intent to publish in their Data Protection Poliy: "In limited circumstances RPA may be required to release information including personal data and commercial information under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In particular RPA is committed to releasing information on subsidies paid under Common Agricultural Policy Schemes." A new set of FOI requests could of course be given a new interpretation in terms of the DPA angle and DEFRA/RPA could be making more explicit assurances to farmers about the release of personal data under the new subsidy regime that make a "Public interest" release harder if an explicit promise not to release individual details has been made with new knowledge of potential FOI release.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Campaign for Freedom of Information: correction

The Campaign for FoI have asked me to publish this correction:

"If you downloaded the Campaign's article about the First Information Tribunal decisions on Monday 19 December you probably have an UNCORRECTED version not the final version. Please download the correct version from http://www.cfoi.org.uk.

(The correct version was published on Friday 16 December, but was accidentally replaced by an earlier draft on Monday 19 December. If you downloaded it before Monday you have the final version already!)."
Media update

The case at Birmingham City Council listed below related to the proposed casino development is worth loooking at and is one the first cases of a "reverse FOIA" action from a company seeking judicial review to block release, the council has decided on internal review to release.

National news

The Guardian- Gatting's bust-up with umpire just wasn't cricket, said British envoy
"The documents, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shed fresh light on the row when Gatting, accused of cheating by Rana, stood toe-to-toe with the umpire in a heated exchange that caused the second Test to be stalled for a day and a half."

The Guardian - The interrogation camp that turned prisoners into living skeletons
"As horrific as conditions were at the London Cage, Bad Nenndorf was far worse. Last week, Foreign Office files which have remained closed for almost 60 years were opened after a request by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act. These papers, and others declassified earlier, lay bare the appalling suffering of many of the 372 men and 44 women who passed through the centre during the 22 months it operated before its closure in July 1947."

The Guardian - British family firm accused of getting rich by building bridges to nowhere
"A Guardian investigation has discovered that steel bridges costing more than £400m have been sold to the Philippines by the Mabey family, all secured with UK government-backed loans and grants. But many of the crossings, which were supposed to open up the flood-prone jungle terrain, have no roads to go with them."

The Mirror - BBC Pay £15.5M in bonuses
"THE BBC paid £15.5mil-lion in staff bonuses while bidding to axe 3,780 jobs over the next three years. Almost half the workforce - more than 10,000 - have been given extra payments in the past year. And the figures do not include £546,000 sums to executive board members or bonuses at commercial arm BBC Worldwide. The payouts were not listed in the BBC's annual report and were only revealed yesterday after a request under the Freedom of Information Act."

Epolitix - Ministers 'take out the trash'
"In a move made famous by the West Wing TV series, ministers have been flooding the media with a series of potentially embarrassing stories. In the US television series White House staffers release all their bad news on one day in a bid to prevent the media covering all of it. The tactic is described as "taking out the trash.....:Department for Constitutional Affairs publishing statistics on how swiftly Whitehall is meeting targets for releasing data under the Freedom of Information Act. The Treasury answered just 43 per cent of the 310 inquiries it received inside the 20 day limit during the third quarter of this year".


Managing information
- Data Protection Act - House of Lords Dismisses Durant - Linklaters Report
"The EU Commission sent a "letter of formal notice" to the Department for Constitutional Affairs in 2004 regarding the United Kingdom's implementation of the Data Protection Directive. Despite requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and a pending appeal to the Information Commissioner, the Department for Constitutional Affairs has not released a copy of this letter or commented on its contents. However, it is thought to be critical of the decision in Durant amongst other things."


E-gov monitor - Freedom of Information maintains a steady course
"Government Departments in Northern Ireland received 592 requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in the third quarter of 2005. The number of requests confirms that Freedom of Information (FOI) is now well established in Northern Ireland."

BBC news - Women 'head to UK for birth care'
"Patients from outside the EU are asked to pay for their NHS care
A BBC investigation has found a growing number of women from overseas are travelling to Britain to give birth in NHS hospitals....under the Freedom of Information Act, the BBC has obtained figures from about one in 10 of the UK's maternity hospitals"


BBC news - Patients 'confused over rights'
"Patients are deluded about their rights in the NHS, a survey suggests.....However, the Freedom of Information Act, which came into force at the beginning of the year, has strengthened some rights to information on infection rates and staffing numbers."

Daily Telegraph - Need an electrician... ask a policeman
"Thousands of police officers across the country are moonlighting as lorry drivers, car salesmen and even embalmers.Current figures from the Metropolitan Police show that its officers have declared 2,303 outside business interests ranging from directorships to being a musician, selling candles, and "computer technology".A detailed list disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act shows a similar picture in Lincolnshire, with 94 different types of job being declared."

Reuters - Britain ran torture camp after World War Two - paper
"Britain ran a secret prison in Germany for two years after the end of World War Two where inmates including Nazi party members were tortured and starved to death."


Local news

Hold the front page - True cost of health negligence claims revealed by reporter's FOI probe
"A tip-off about a hospital negligence claim led Kentish Gazette reporter Alex Claridge to investigate the true cost of such claims through the Freedom of Information Act. He found the bill to the health authority was £30m in the past ten years."

ICDunbartanshire - Pupils behind in basic standards
"Thousands of high school pupils across Scotland are failing to reach basic standards in literacy and numeracy, according to new figures.More than three in 10 S2 pupils - in the second year of high school - were getting poor results in reading, statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Scotsman newspaper found."

Birmingham Post - US casino firm gags council
"An American gaming corporation is threatening a High Court injunction to prevent The Birmingham Post from publishing financial information and contractural details of a super-casino at the new Birmingham City stadium. Las Vegas Sands said it would take legal action to stop Birmingham City Council releasing the content of a legal agreement it signed with Las Vegas Sands and Birmingham City FC. The threat followed a Freedom of Information Act application by the Post requiring the council to release the agreement, which binds the council, Las Vegas Sands and the football club to work together until 2009 in an attempt to secure a casino at the Wheels site in Saltley....It is believed to be the first time under the Freedom of Information Act that a council has acted in favour of the public interest but a third party has wanted to prevent publication"

Monday, December 19, 2005

FOI Live 2006

Fourth Annual Information Conference: FOI Live 2006

Thursday 25 May 2006
Millennium Conference Centre, Kensington, London

Book by Friday, 3 March 2006 and receive a £50 discount

The Constitution Unit, Department of Constitutional Affairs and Information Commissioner's Office invite you to attend the biggest FOI event of the calendar year: FOI Live 2006. Last year's conference attracted 340 delegates and feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

This year's programme offers talks by top government officials and information legislation experts in the UK, as well as presentations by three overseas information comissioners. Plenary and parallel-plenary sessions include sector-specific (central government, local government and NHS) as well as topic-specific talks and panel discussions. Throughout the day you will explore answers to the following questions (and many more!): How do you navigate the complexities of the various pieces of information-related legislation? What are the challenges that continue to hinder your work as a practitioner? What lessons has your authority gleaned from responding to requests during this initial implementation period? What can you learn from the experiences of other public bodies? Rounding out the day’s programme is a drinks reception during which delegates will be able to network and chat informally with the day’s speakers.

Speakers include:
·Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner
·Alex Allan, Permanent Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs
·Clare Moriarty, Constitution Director, Department for Constitutional Affairs
·Graham Smith, Deputy Information Commissioner
·Steve Bailey, Records and Information Manager, Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)
·Paul Brooks, Chief Inspector, Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)
·Judith Cullen, Head of the Environmental Information Unit, DEFRA
·Gifty Edila, Director of Law and Administration, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
·Phil Michaels, Solicitor, Friends of the Earth
·Jonathan Montgomery, Chair of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Strategic Health Authority
·Carol Tullo, Director, Office of Public Sector Information
·Marcus Turle, Solicitor, Field Fisher Waterhouse

International Commissioners
·Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner of Canada
·Alexander Dix, Berlin Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information
·Nataša Pirc Musar, Commissioner for Access to Public Information, Republic of Slovenia

Places for the conference are limited so please book soon. For more information about the conference and to reserve your place, please visit www.foilive.com.
US FOIA

Following up on the previous post I made last week about the FOIA Executive order signed by President last week. Statements by Sens. Cornyn and Leahy, Rep. Platts (who had introduced various FOIA Bills in 2005) are now available. The Coalition of journalists for Open Government have produced an analysis document.

Also in the US - Post Katrina-Related Contracts Online, Groups Tell Bush: read the press release on the "open the government" website

More generally in the US: a report entitled "Government Secrecy:is too much information kept from the public" has been published by Congressional Quarterly (24p, PDF)
Article: "Information Tribunal’s early decisions lead to greater openness"

The Campaign for Information have published this useful overview article of the information tribunal decisions so far.

It may also be be worth reading this in conjunction with the article Timothy Pitt-Payne wrote for Open Government a few weeks ago.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Information Commissioner's Office

This reminder is on the ICO website: "Christmas Working Arrangements
It is not unusual for public authorities to provide only essential services between Christmas and New Year. This year, where this is done, a full service is likely to finish sometime on Friday 23 December and resume on Tuesday 3 January. Public authorities need to consider what impact this will have on meeting requests for information within statutory time limit as 28, 29 and 30 December are working days under the provisions of the Act. It will have an impact on any requests received from 28 November."

Complaints form

There is a standard complaint form for FOI/EIR complaints to the ICO available. Has been available since October, with aim of trying to formalise the process. I understand that some of the problems with resolving complaints are due to both parties not submitting all the relevant paperwork. In particular the complainant is now asked to provide suporting documents: "We will not be able to investigate your complaint unless you provide us with: A copy of your information request or, where this is not available, evidence that you made the request. If the public authority has replied to your request, we will also need to have copies of the following:

-A copy of the initial response and refusal notice from the public authority
-A copy of your request for an internal review
-A copy of the public authority’s internal review decision."

The use of the form is non-statutory, though I would advise anyone complaining to use it.

Richard Thomas spoke at the CPPS seminar I was at this week and I asked him about the approach to using information notices (see my previous post and update) . He stated the that approach had been one of negotiation as the first year was a learning process but he indicated a "readiness" to use information notices when relevant in 2006.

In cases where public authorities have kept poor quality audit trails and are slow to provide the ICO with all relevant background information use of an information notice may give the process greater urgency. This reinforces the importantance of having a tracking and co-ordinating system for FOIA/requests, the issue is not neccesarily about purchasing software but the need for aggreed processes and assigned responsibilities by decision makers and points of contact to document and record all signiciant actions related FOIA/EIR requests. I know of many smaller authorities who are managing to do this through clever use if excel or access. Also remember there are some free/low cost solutions that can be customised e.g Adam Pope's free FOI monitor and the datasmart product.

The DCA document: "Generic User Requirements Specification for IT Systems to Manage Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulations Enquiries" although written primarily for central government offers a comprehensive overview of what information should be captured (and in levels of priority) about FOIA/EIR requests. The ICO also provide a template verbal request log for EIR requests.

It worth noting that organising processes and the management of requests and knock on problems of delay are still a problem in many FOI regimes (the post I made yesterday about the US FOIA shows they are still tackling the problem after nearly 40 years of having an FOIA.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

New disclosure log

A new disclosure log for Carlisle City Council has been added to the index.
Conducting an Information Audit

I'm running a seminar on information auditing for ActNow next year:

20th February 2006 – Manchester, City Centre Hotel £199 + VAT

"This seminar introduces delegates to the concept of information auditing using scenarios and examples. It is suitable for both public and private sector delegates and will assist with the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, the Data Protection Act and the Environmental Information Regulations."

download the flyer
Press release - Information Commissioner's office

Freedom of Information secures release of restaurant reports
Wednesday 14 December 2005
Freedom of Information secures release of restaurant reports
The Information Commissioner has today announced that he is ordering Bridgend County Borough Council to disclose the latest hygiene inspection report for a local hotel. The council had refused to release the information following a freedom of information request.

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, said: “Bridgend County Borough Council argued that the release of inspection reports would undermine the way it carries out its responsibilities, but we were unable to agree that their refusal to disclose was justified under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The public has a right to know what health inspections discover. Well run restaurants have nothing to fear – and much to gain – from public scrutiny. Publishing inspection reports will put pressure on restaurants to raise their
standards.”
The decision coincides with agreement from London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham to join the growing number of other local councils which routinely publish food hygiene inspection reports on their websites after requests for the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, said: “The Freedom of Information Act has brought a vast array of previously undisclosed information into the public domain, such as these hygiene inspection reports now being released throughout the UK. However, while some local authorities have been quick to seize the initiative and make such disclosures routine, others have been much slower to issue the information at all.

My advice to local authorities is absolutely clear – the presumption should be in favour of disclosure. There is a strong public interest in the disclosure of this particular category of information, because it gives the public valuable knowledge when making choices about where to eat out.”

The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham originally turned down a freedom of information request by WHICH? to view hygiene inspection reports from the last five years, because they were concerned that disclosure could be too damaging to local catering traders, and the inspection process. But following a complaint by WHICH? which was taken up by the ICO, the council agreed to not only release the requested reports, but to make this and future information generally available through their
website, and set up a star rating system.

Decision notice details
Public Authority: Bridgend County Borough Council
Summary: The complainant requested a copy of a food hygiene inspection report for a local hotel. Bridgend CBC refused the request, citing section 31 of the Act ('law enforcement'). The Council argued that it promotes an informal approach to inspections, and disclosure of this type of information would be detrimental to the relationship between the Council's inspectors and businesses. This in turn would result in prejudice to the exercise of the Council's regulatory functions under the Food Safety Act, and would therefore not be in the public interest. The Commissioner decided that the Council has not demonstrated prejudice and therefore the exemption at section 31 was applied inappropriately in this case. Accordingly, the Commissioner
requires the Council to provide the information requested to the complainant.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.31 - Complaint Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50073296

Also see The Guardian -
Campaign for FOI - new Course

Commissioner and Tribunal Decisions - the practical implications. A half day course in London on 28 February 2006. The Campaign's course will examine the UK and Scottish Information Commissioner's decisions to date and those of the Information Tribunal. It will highlight the most significant, discussing their implications for request handling, exemptions and the public interest test. The course is aimed at public authorities, lawyers and FOI specialists

More information
Central Govt Freedom of Information statistics July - September 2005

The third quarterly report providing statistics on implementation of the Act across central government covers July to September 2005.

Executive summary
Departments of State reported receiving a total of around 3,800 "non-routine" information requests during the third quarter of 2005 ("Q3"). Other monitored bodies received a total of around 3,700 requests. Across all monitored bodies, around 7,500 requests were received, of which 91 per cent had been processed at the time of monitoring.

The Q3 total of 7,500 requests across all monitored bodies compares to previous quarterly totals of 13,600 during the first quarter of the year ("Q1"), and 8,400 during the second quarter ("Q2"). These totals suggest that there was a marked initial "peak" in request volumes during the first quarter of the FoI Act's implementation.

During Q3, 90 per cent of all monitored bodies' requests (excluding those "on hold" or lapsed) were "in time", in that they were processed within the statutory deadline* or were subject to a permitted deadline extension. This represents an increase on the equivalent figures from Q1 (83 per cent) and Q2 (88 per cent).

Of all "resolvable" requests received during Q3 (i.e. requests where a substantive response was possible), 67 per cent were granted in full, compared to 59 per cent during Q2. Of the remaining Q3 requests, 10 per cent were withheld in part, 15 per cent were withheld in full, and the remainder had not yet received a substantive response.

Across all three quarters combined, monitored bodies had a cumulative total of 993 requests referred for Internal Review on the grounds that information was withheld. Of the 766 Internal Reviews with a known outcome at the time of monitoring, 78 per cent resulted in the request's initial handling being upheld in full.

Download the full report [PDF 295kb, 32pages]
US FOIA

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 14, 2005
Executive Order: Improving Agency Disclosure of Information

Read online

The highlights:

-agencies shall process requests under the FOIA in an efficient and appropriate manner and achieve tangible, measurable improvements in FOIA processing. When an agency's FOIA program does not produce such results, it should be reformed, consistent with available resources

-Agency Chief FOIA Officers.Designation. The head of each agency shall designate within 30 days of the date of this order a senior official of such agency (at the Assistant Secretary or equivalent level), to serve as the Chief FOIA Officer of that agency

-Each agency shall establish one or more FOIA Requester Service Centers (Center), as appropriate, which shall serve as the first place that a FOIA requester can contact to seek information concerning the status of the person's FOIA request and appropriate information about the agency's FOIA response. The Center shall include appropriate staff to receive and respond to inquiries from FOIA requesters;

-The agency Chief FOIA Officer shall ensure that the agency has in place a method (or methods), including through the use of the Center, to receive and respond promptly and appropriately to inquiries from FOIA requesters about the status of their requests. The Chief FOIA Officer shall also consider, in consultation with the FOIA Public Liaisons, as appropriate, whether the agency's implementation of other means (such as tracking numbers for requests, or an agency telephone or Internet hotline) would be appropriate for responding to status inquiries.



This order seems to take forward many of the Cornyn Bill aspects previously reported on the blog and discussed in the Open Government Journal by Thomas Susman
International updates


Tawain
The newly passed Government Information Release Law is an important step on the road to improving Taiwan's freedom of speech and is also a guarantee for the rights of the people, the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) said Wednesday.

The Legislative Yuan approved the law Dec. 6, which allows people to have more direct access to government information, to be a part of public policy-making and to oversee government operations.

Mozambique
MISA FOI Bill - final version

Download Bill (word format)

Russia
Government, United Russia Oppose Ryzhkov's Information Freedom Bill
Report by Aleksandr Braterskiy: "A Sword Under Wraps"; Democrats accuse the government of sabotaging the fight against corruption

Izvestiya (Moscow Edition)
Tuesday, December 13, 2005 T01:07:41Z
The authors of a draft law on openness of information believe that officials will take less bribes for providing official permits and documents if they are criminally liable for refusing to disclose such information. The Duma has already been refusing to discuss this law for
a whole year.

The authors of the law (among them experts from the Independent Electoral Institute) make reference to the president's address to the Federal Assembly, in which he said that there was a need to pass the draft law, and they accuse the government and the United Russia faction of attempting to delay the adoption of this document.

"We are putting a sword into the hands of society, a sword that it will
be able to use to beat corruption", State Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov
stated on Thursday. He is co-author of the draft law "On Guaranteeing
the Availability of Information on the Decisions of the Organs of State
Power and Local Self-Government".

The head of the Indem Foundation Georgiy Saratov, who is conducting research into the level of corruption in Russia, supports the authors of the draft law. According to Satarov, entrepreneurs frequently face corruption in Russian state bodies: "Businessmen are unable to obtain douments that regulate business, even though this is not a matter of classified information but of information that is entirely routine in nature".

In Ryzhkov's opinion, if the law that he has drafted is actually passed the level of corruption may fall significantly. In particular, the draft law states that justification must be given for any refusal to provide information to citizens - "it must indicate the reasons for the refusal, and state organs must be under an obligation to issue copies of documents free of charge to interested citizens, while archive funds and information resources must be available to people who are visiting state structures".

Ryzhkov hopes that the law may even be adopted at its first reading in the current State Duma and he believes that, if the law enters into force, there will be a "revolution" in the country. But lawyer Valeriy Grebenikkov, who is a member of the United Russia faction in the State Duma, is confident that there will be no "revolution", although he does agree with Ryzhkov that the existing order violates the constitutional rights of citizens: "We have a situation in which officials do not make information available to citizens, but there are other laws available to
punish them. What we must do is not pass a law but ask the procurator's office why it accepts this situation".

(Description of Source: Moscow Izvestiya (Moscow Edition) in Russian --
Moscow Edition of popular daily bought by Gazprom in 2005)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Scottish Information Commissioner

Two news releases from the SIC:

Monday December 12th
Third survey shows increased public awareness of freedom of information
"Public awareness of the rights provided under Freedom of Information legislation in Scotland is rising, and people are more likely to use its powers than at any time since its introduction nearly a year ago.

A new survey undertaken on behalf of the Scottish Information Commissioner found that people know more about the role of the Commissioner, the rights afforded by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, and are more likely to request information from Scottish public authorities."

Thursday 8th December
Scottish Information Commissioner rules that mortality rates for all surgeons in Scotland should be released
"The Scottish Information Commissioner today (Thursday, December 8th 2005) announced that the Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service (CSA) should release information on the mortality rates of surgeons in Scotland since 2002/3. This includes for each named surgeon, his/her speciality, the hospital where they work, the number of patients operated on annually and mortality rates.


The decision was issued following separate appeals under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act by Mr Camillo Fracassini, of the Sunday Times and Mr Peter MacMahon of The Scotsman who queried the CSA’s original decision to withhold the requested information."
Scotland - Freedom of Information review

Press release - Scottish Executive:
A review will be carried out to investigate how aspects of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act are working.

Minister for Parliamentary Business Margaret Curran said that this will make the legislation more effective.

Confirming details of the review at a FOI conference in Edinburgh today, Ms Curran said:

"The Act has been operating for almost a year and it will take some time to properly judge the overall success. However, while it may be too early to judge any need for wholesale change, I am convinced there is benefit in reviewing certain aspects of its operation.

"There is no doubt that the right to access information serves the public interest. People across Scotland are now able to find out more about their local schools, hospitals and councils.

"But we must also accept and face up to the challenges this new legislation brings. It's vital that FOI is not undermined by misuse which may actually inhibit the free flow of information the Act is designed to help.

"I hope that FOI will be increasingly used to meet peoples' needs to understand and participate in decision making, in policy making and in development of services and less used for gossip and to promote self interest.

"The consultation being launched today will help us decide how any fine tuning can be used to ensure just that."

The FOI(Scotland) Act 2002 came into force on January 1, 2005. Ms Curran announced the intention to review some aspects of the Act in October 2005.

The review will be undertaken to identify any requirements for fine-tuning of the Act following its first year in operation. The review will not encompass a wholesale look at the legislation. It will in the main focus on areas where any agreed changes or outcomes would be achievable through use of subordinate legislation or amendments to the Act's Codes of Practice.

One part of the review will be a public consultation which will be distributed and made available on this website, during the week beginning December 12, 2005.

Key topics of the review include: coverage of the Act, the fees regime, statutory prohibitions to disclosure of information, general feedback on discharge of functions under the Act and any areas where difficulty is arising.

There are currently around 10,000 bodies covered by the Act from the Scottish Parliament and Executive to individual GP practices.

taken from Scottish Executive website

Consultation details

Freedom of Information one year on - A review
This exercise is designed to gather the views of consultees to feed into a review on the operation of certain aspects of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.
Contact: Liza McLean
Address: Freedom of Information Unit Victoria Quay Edinburgh, EH6 6QQ
Email: foi@scotland.gov.uk
Telephone: 0131 244 5405

taken from the Consultation section of the SE website
Media update

National News

The Guardian - Papers reveal UK's nuclear aid to Israel
"Fresh and apparently incriminating documents have come to light under the Freedom of Information Act on the way Britain helped Israel obtain its nuclear bomb 40 years ago, by selling it 20 tonnes of heavy water."

The Guardian (media) - The truth behind Real Lives
"Newly-released documents reveal the secrecy, political pressure and damaging splits over the BBC's decision to screen a pioneering documentary about Northern Ireland."


The Independent - How black gold was hijacked: North sea oil and the betrayal of Scotland
"It was a document that could have changed the course of Scottish history. Nineteen pages long, Written in an elegant, understated academic hand by the leading Scottish economist Gavin McCrone, presented to the Cabinet office in April 1975 and subsequently buried in a Westminster vault for thirty years. It revealed how North Sea oil could have made an independent Scotland as prosperous as Switzerland. The Freedom of Information Act has yielded many insights and revelations into the working of the British government, but none so vivid as the contents of Professor McCrone's paper, written on request in the dog days of Ted Heath's Tory government and only just unearthed under the FOI rules."

BBC news - Surgeon death rates in spotlight
"Scotland's information commissioner has called on the NHS to publish details of the death rates of individual surgeons."

Accountancy Age - Non-doms £1bn dodge
"Non-domiciled people avoid £1bn of tax through their privileged tax status, according to the former Inland Revenue’s internal research. According to documents released to Accountancy Age under the Freedom of Information Act, 77,000 individuals pay £5bn in UK taxes. The issue of non-domiciliaries – who pay tax on UK income, but not foreign income if it is not remitted to the UK – has long troubled anti-avoidance campaigners, including Gordon Brown."

Local news

This is Lanrkshire- Authorities 'less open under Act'
"Less Scots believe the country's authorities have become more open since the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act a year ago. However, public awareness of the rights provided under the new law has risen. And a growing number of Scots are likely to request information from public authorities under the act, according to a new survey carried out on behalf of the Scottish Information Commissioner."

Norwich Evening News - Top-level probe into chemical tests
"The Government has caved into pressure for a full inquiry into controversial germ warfare tests carried out over Norwich in the 1960s. The announcement is a major breakthrough for campaigners, including the Evening News, who have demanded answers about the tests, which have been linked with high rates of oesophageal cancer in the county....Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb put questions about the possible link to the Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt under the new Freedom of Information Act."

Luton and Dunstable - Ambulancemen behaving badly
"THE number of staff disciplinaries at Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Ambulance and Paramedic Service has more than trebled in the last year. Following a Freedom of Information request from Luton/Dunstable on Sunday to the service, we can reveal between September 2004 and September 2005 there were ten disciplinaries. Five members of staff where handed first written warnings, while the other five were given a final written warning."

Western Mail - We're not telling you because you'll laugh
"THE Welsh Assembly Government has refused to release details of correspondence to an opposition politician - on the grounds that the Cabinet could be exposing itself to ridicule. The astonishing admission came in a letter from an official to Liberal Democrat AM Jenny Randerson, who had sought information under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act."
Lastest decision notices

Again in the main these are procedural (S1,S10, S16 and S16)

The Post Office Limited and Thanet District Council cases uphold the use of the legal and professional privelidge exepmtion (S42, not 43 as cited in the ICO summary)

The Oxford City Council upholds in part use of S31 (would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime). Request was for "information about all OCC vehicles currently registered with DVLA and those that had been sold including vehicle identification numbers (VINs), vehicle registration marks (VRMs), fleet numbers, make and model types and type of body." A request I know many practitioners received earlier this year as a round robin.

I'm still currently working on reviewing/summarsising the DNs so far, hope to have something available before Xmas or early next year.

December 2005

Case Ref: FS50066390
Date: 05/12/05
Public Authority: London Borough of Lewisham
Summary: The complainant requested copies of letters sent to the Council in 2003 detailing allegations of blackmail. The Council had supplied some of the information, refusing the remainder on the basis that the information contained third party data. During the course of the Commissioner's investigation, the Council revisited their initial decision and chose to release more of the information. The complainant was satisfied with this but asked the Commissioner to investigate the technical breaches which had occurred when the complainant originally requested the information. The Commissioner found that the Council had not issued a proper refusal notice under section 17 and consequently had breached the twenty working day limit in which to respond.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 Complaint Upheld: FOI s.17 - Complaint Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50066390



Case Ref: FS50083727
Date: 07/12/05
Public Authority: Llandudno Town Council
Summary: The complainant requested information regarding the costs and receipts of all matters to do with the Town Twinning arrangements for the year 1 April 2004 until 31 March 2005. The Town Council provided this information but did so outside the 20 working day time limit.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 Complaint Upheld.
Full transcript of Decision Notice FS50083727


Case Ref: FS50073291
Date: 7/12/05
Public Authority: Cardiff County Council (CCC)
Summary: On 28/01/05 the complainant requested documents relating to the National School for Children with Cerebral Palsy. In its response, dated 07/03/05, CCC stated that it was necessary to consider the public interest in relation to this request, citing the exemption at section 36 of the Act, and indicated that it expected to be able to provide the outcome of their consideration of the public interest by 18/03/05. CCC neither advised the complainant of a decision nor released the information by 13/03/05 and still has not done so at the date of issuing the Decision Notice, despite the Commissioner's intervention. The Commissioner requires CCC to provide the complainant with either the information requested or a notice detailing why it is in the public interest to withhold or not confirm whether they hold the information.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Upheld; FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld
Full transcript of Decision Notice FS50073291


Case Ref: FS50094879
Date: 06/12/05
Public Authority: Ministry of Defence (MoD)
Summary: The complainant requested a copy of the evidence on which a statement (made to the complainant in May 2003) was based. He also requested that the MoD seek a new legal opinion in connection with that statement. The Commissioner is satisfied that the MoD do not hold the requested information. The Commissioner is further satisfied that the MoD provided advice and assistance as far as it would be reasonable to expect the authority to do so when they provided the complainant with extracts from the legislation on which the May 2003 statement was based and an explanation of their interpretation of the legislation.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Not Upheld; FOI s.16 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full transcript of Decision Notice FS50094879

Case Ref: FS50084406
Date: 05/12/05
Public Authority: Melton Borough Council
Summary: The complaint was that the Council failed to respond to the information request within 20 working days. The Commissioner upheld this complaint. No further action was required to be taken by the Council in connection with this specific matter as the information request was responded to, albeit outside the 20 working days time limit.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld
Full transcript of Decision Notice FS50084406

Case Ref: FS50080313
Date: 01/12/05
Public Authority: Ministry of Defence (MoD)
Summary:The complainant requested her late father's full naval service and medical records. The MoD provided, albeit late, the certificate of service and attestation pack. The medical records had earlier been provided to the complainant's mother and the complainant stated that she did not want duplicates of the same information and so this was not provided. The complainant contends that the full service and medical records were not provided. The MoD contend that they have provided all of the information which they hold and that typically, for Royal Marines serving between 1983 and 1948, they would not hold any further information. The Commissioner is satisfied with the assurances provided by the MoD. The Commissioner's decision is that the MoD has provided all the information held in relation to the request but failed to do so within 20 working days.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 Complaint Not Upheld; FOI s.10 Complaint Upheld
Full transcript of Decision Notice FS50080313

November 2005

Case Ref: FS50074966
Date: 30/11/05
Public Authority: East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC)
Summary: The applicant requested information regarding the Hornsea Rail Trail and received a partial response within the statutory period of twenty working days. When the complainant pursued the failure of ERYC to provide all of the information, the request was widened further on two occasions. Following the intervention of the Commissioner, ERYC provided a full response to the information request, however the Commissioner has decided that by virtue of the fact that they failed to provide the information requested within twenty working days a breach has occurred.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50074966


Case Ref: FS50067984
Date: 30/11/05
Public Authority: Thanet District Council
Summary: The complainant requested a copy of the legal advice to the Council on the legal implications of night flights from Kent International Airport (also known as Manston Airport). The Council refused access to the document citing s.42 which exempts information subject to legal professional privilege. The Commissioner determined that the document was privileged and that the public interest in maintaining the exemption and therefore protecting the principle of legal professional privilege outweighed the public interest in disclosure.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.43 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50067984

Case Ref: FS50069727
Date: 30/11/05
Public Authority: Thanet District Council
Summary: The complainant requested a copy of the legal advice to the Council on the legal implications of night flights from Kent International Airport (also known as Manston Airport). The Council refused access to the document citing s.42 which exempts information subject to legal professional privilege. The Commissioner determined that the document was privileged and that the public interest in maintaining the exemption and therefore protecting the principle of legal professional privilege outweighed the public interest in disclosure.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.43 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50069727


Case Ref: FS50080366
Date: 30/11/05
Public Authority: Thanet District Council
Summary: The complainant requested a copy of the legal advice to the Council on the legal implications of night flights from Kent International Airport (also known as Manston Airport). The Council refused access to the document citing s.42 which exempts information subject to legal professional privilege. The Commissioner determined that the document was privileged and that the public interest in maintaining the exemption and therefore protecting the principle of legal professional privilege outweighed the public interest in disclosure.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.43 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50080366


Case Ref: FS50066054
Date: 30/11/05
Public Authority: The Post Office Limited
Summary: The complainant made a request for information about the standard of customer service at a branch of the Post Office in Clapham. The Post Office refused the request on the basis that the majority of the information which had been requested was not held and that the information they did hold was exempt under section 43 in that its disclosure would be prejudicial to the Post Office's and others commercial interests. The Commissioner decided that the exemption had been correctly applied. This is because the information included public relations and marketing strategies which could be copied and used by the Post Office's commercial rivals in their own businesses. The public interest rests in preserving a level playing field for the commercial activities the Post Office is engaged in. The Commissioner is also satisfied with the Post Office's assurances that they do not hold any further information.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.43 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50066054

Case Ref: FS50071313
Date: 30/11/05
Public Authority: Warrington Borough Council
Summary: The complainant requested the full accounts of the taxi licensing office for the last 5 years. The Council failed to respond within 20 working days and in their eventual response stated that clarification of the request was required before the information could be provided. The rationale for this was not made clear to either the complainant or, subsequently, the Commissioner. This Decision Notice requires that the Council provide either the information requested or a valid reason for why this information cannot be provided.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Upheld, FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50071313


Case Ref: FS50067004
Date: 29/11/05
Public Authority: Oxford City Council (OCC)
Summary: The complainant requested information about all OCC vehicles currently registered with DVLA and those that had been sold including vehicle identification numbers (VINs), vehicle registration marks (VRMs), fleet numbers, make and model types and type of body. The OCC withheld all the information requested relying on section 31 of the Act. Section 31 exempts from disclosure that information which would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime. The Commissioner decided that OCC had applied section 31 correctly in relation to the information concerning VINs as disclosure to the public would be likely to increase the risk of the information being used for vehicle cloning and therefore would not be in the public interest. However, the Commissioner disagrees with the application of section 31 with regard to the other information requested and therefore requires that this is provided to the complainant. In addition the Commissioner decided that OCC had not complied with the requirements of section 17 of the Act in relation to the refusal notice it had issued because no consideration of the public interest was included. the Commissioner decided that OCC had not complied with the requirements of section 16 of the Act, the duty to provide advice and assistance, in relation to the modified request.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.31 - Complaint Partly Upheld, FOI s.17 - Complaint Upheld, FOI s.16 - Complaint Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50067004

Case Ref: FS50066308
Date: 29/11/05
Public Authority: Cyngor Sir Gâ r (Carmarthenshire County Council)
Summary:The complainant requested detailed information from the Council about all its vehicles currently registered with DVLA and those it had sold. The information requested included, amongst other things, information about vehicle identification numbers (VINs), vehicle registration marks (VRMs), fleet numbers, make and model types and type of body. The Council withheld some information under section 31 of the Act on the basis that its disclosure would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime. The Council issued a refusal notice to the complainant that did not include the public interest test. The Commissioner decided that the Council had applied section 31 correctly only in relation to some of the information. The Commissioner also found that the original refusal notice had not complied with section 17 of the Act.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.31 - Complaint Partly Upheld, FOI s.17 - Complaint Upheld.
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50066308



Case Ref: FS50070222
Date: 29/11/05
Public Authority: British Nuclear Fuels plc (BNFL)
Summary: Information was requested about the sums of money spent by BNFL on various measures relating to public relations and corporate social responsibility. BNFL failed to respond to this request within 20 working days. The response to the information request stated that to provide all the information requested would have incurred costs exceeding the limit of £450. No information was provided as to how the cost estimate had been formed or how the complainant could refine their request so that it would be possible to comply without exceeding the cost limit. Therefore this Decision Notice also concludes that BNFL has failed in its duty to provide advice and assistance. As the request was responded to, albeit not within the 20 working days limit, and as the BNFL has since responded to a refined information request made by the complainant, the Commissioner does not require any further action to be taken by BNFL.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld, FOI s.16 - Complaint Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50072719
Campaign for FOI: Courses

Get to grips with the Freedom of Information Act: practical training courses for users

The next course is in central London on Thursday 26 January 2006 from 9.30 am until 1.30 pm.

Prices are:

£50 for individuals,* freelance journalists and academics
£95 for media/NGOs
£130 for public authorities/others

More information

Friday, December 09, 2005

Actnow Freedom of Information (Scotland) Conference

7th February 2006 - Edinburgh City Centre

Keynote address: Kevin Dunion

"The Commissioner, the journalist, the campaigner and the Scottish Executive have all had input into how we implement the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act. One year on, join us in Edinburgh to hear from the experts (including the Scottish Information Commissioner himself), learn from their experiences and benchmark your organisation’s compliance with other public sector organisations. Act Now is one of the leading providers of FOISA training to the Scottish public sector. Our experience and ability to attract leading speakers means that this is an event not to be missed."

Other speakers include from the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Campaign fro Freedom of Information, as well speakers from the public, private sector and journalistic perspective.

Full details and online booking at: www.actnow.org.uk . There is an early booking discount

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Open Government: a journal on freedom of information

Open Government: a journal on freedom of information Volume 1 Issue 3 now available
www.opengovjournal.org


Table of Contents

Volume 1 Issue 3
------------------

Complete Volume 1 Issue 3 as a PDF

------------------

Editorial
Editorial Vol 1 Issue 3
Steve Wood

------------------

Research articles

Paul Hubbard: Freedom of Information and Security Intelligence: An
economic analysis in an Australian context

------------------

Viewpoints

Sarah Holsen: First pulse check on UK FOI community indicates good
health

Timothy Pitt-Payne: The role of the information tribunal under the UK
Freedom of Information Act 2000

Heather Brooke: The UK's openness watchdog lacks teeth and transparency

------------------

Book reviews

Heather Brooke: Your right to know

Patrick Birkinshaw: "Government and Information The Law relating to
Access, Disclosure and their Regulation"

------------------

Contact: editor@opengovjournal.org to be added to the subscription list
subscription with either notify as the subject line

Regards

Editor (Steve Wood)
Media update

National News

Green Ribbon - Viktor Bout FOI reply
"noted here some time ago that I had put in a freedom of information request about the MOD's use of airlines linked to the Russian Arms dealer Viktor Bout. The MOD did reply by 16 November, and so it's probably about time I posted their response here as promised. Below is what I received from Defence Supply Chain Operations and Movements at the Defence Logistics Organisation."


The Scotsman - VisitScotland faces complaint over refusal to divulge ETourism details
"VISITSCOTLAND, the tourism agency, is to be referred to the Scottish Information Commissioner for its repeated refusal to provide details of its contractual relationship with ETourism Ltd, the largely French-owned company behind the VisitScotland.com website."

The Guardian - Multinationals, not farmers, reap biggest rewards in Britain's share of CAP payouts
"The largest individual payments made to the UK under the much criticised common agricultural policy are going to multinational food companies and not, as commonly assumed, to farmers. A Guardian investigation into CAP payments has found that millions of pounds are being paid to manufacturers of bulk fats and sugars used to produce processed foods."

The Mirror - POLICE, CAMERAS NO ACTION
"POLICE officers have been caught more than 5,000 times on speed cameras - but none were booked or disciplined.Road safety groups are now calling for action after the figures came to light under the Freedom of Information Act."


Computer Weekly - Opinion: openness, accountability and awareness of risk are vital for ID card scheme to succeed
"Recently the Home Office became the latest department to decline Computer Weekly's application under the Freedom of Information Act for the publication of Gateway reviews. It decided not to publish edited versions of its three Gateway reviews on the ID cards project. It also declined our request to publish risk registers for the project, or edited versions of them."

Local News

BBC news - Figures reveal 'speeding police'
"Using the FOIA the BBC asked forces in the East - including Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire and Suffolk - for details on speeding police staff."


ICSurreyonline - 'Farceway four' facing the rap for £5.7m overspend
"County council transport chiefs revealed disciplinary procedures had been brought against four officers, but refused to release their names or the roles they played in the project. The News has already submitted a request for the details under the Freedom of Information Act because we believe council taxpayers have a right to know."

US FoI

Boston Globe - Civilian worker data kept secret: Researchers sue government over 900,000 left out
"Breaking a tradition of openness that began in 1816, the Bush administration has without explanation withheld the names and work locations of about 900,000 of its civilian workers, according to a lawsuit filed yesterday. 'Citizens have a right to know who is working for the government," said Adina Rosenbaum, lawyer for the co-directors of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, a research group at Syracuse University, who sued under the Freedom of Information Act to get the data."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

No plans to use section 5 to designate new bodies

The following answer to a Lords PQ was given last week:

Freedom of Information Act 2000
Baroness Noakes asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have any plans to designate any bodies under Section 5 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000; and [HL2319]

28 Nov 2005 : Column WA7

Whether bodies which are neither listed in Schedule 1 to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 nor defined under Section 6 of that Act, but which carry out statutory functions delegated to them, should be subject to the information disclosure requirements of the Act. [HL2320]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) applies to those bodies which are public authorities for purposes of the Act. The scope of the power in Section 5 of the Act enables the designation as a public authority of bodies that appear to the Secretary of State to be exercising functions of a public nature and those are providing, under contract with a public authority, services whose provision is a function of that authority.

We are currently building up evidence of how freedom of information has impacted on the bodies that meet in the existing criteria as specified in Sections 4 and 6 of the Act. We feel that it is important to gain such evidence before considering how Section 5 might be used. We have therefore not identified any bodies for designation under Section 5.

Parliamentary update

Some other FoI related PQs of note:

Commons: 17 Nov 2005 -HMS Sheffield
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many requests have been made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for information relating to HMS Sheffield; when the requests were made; and on what date a decision was made on each request. [28356]

Mr. Ingram: Three requests for information (RFI) from different applicants have been made relating to HMS Sheffield under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. One RFI was made in January, and the other two in February. Full replies have been deferred pending the outcome of the departmental review that I commissioned in April 2005 to consider what information can be made available publicly concerning the investigation into the loss of HMS Sheffield during the Falklands conflict. My letter of 7 April (D/MSU/2/5/1) refers, a copy of which is available in the Library of the House.

Lords: 8 Nov 2005 Roads Expenditure: Classification
Baroness Noakes asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they omitted some, but not all, of the names of officials involved in examining the classification of roads expenditure from the documents released by HM Treasury under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 on 19 October. [HL1943]

Lord McKenzie of Luton: We provided the names of the senior civil servants involved in examining the classification of roads expenditure on the basis that we would normally expect the names of staff at this level to be in the public domain. We decided it would not be in the public interest for the names of officials below this level to be made public.

Commons: 8 Nov 2005: Iraq
Peter Law: To ask the Solicitor-General what discussions his Department has had with the Information Commissioner since April in respect of outstanding applications for information on the policy formulation of the Attorney-General's opinion on the legality of military action against Iraq made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. [25507]

The Solicitor-General: The Government do not comment on cases which are or may be under consideration by the Information Commissioner

Commons 8 Nov 2005: Freedom of Information
Norman Baker: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 have been submitted to the Central Clearing House in each month since the inception of that unit, broken down by public authority. [25051]

Ms Harman [holding answer 7 November 2005]: The Access to Information Central Clearing House received 3,006 referrals between 1 January and 31 October 2005.

I will write to my hon. Friend providing a full response to his question breaking down this volume of referrals both by month and department and copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Media update

National news

The Guardian - Universities in move to sponsor academies
"Some of the country's leading universities have been holding discreet talks with the government over plans to sponsor schools in the controversial academies programme, the Guardian has learned....UCL did not wish to comment on its plans, but, according to DfE documents released under the Freedom of Information Act to the Guardian, UCL is "keen to sponsor an academy" in the London borough of Camden, in which it is situated."

Local News
Plymouth Herald - lethal weapons
"Children as young as 10 are carrying knives on the streets of Plymouth. Figures released to the Herald under the Freedom of Information Act show there were nearly 1,000 crimes involving knives during the past three years."

US FoI
Editor and Publisher - Reporters Committee 'Deplores' FOIA Exemptions for Planned U.S. Pandemic Agency
"A proposed new federal agency to strengthen U.S. defenses against natural or man-made disease outbreaks would be the first-ever government operation given a blanket exemption from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) warns."

Ireland FoI
News.com - CIA aircraft 'at Irish airports'
"CIA aircraft landed at Shannon airport in the south-west of Ireland on 38 occasions in recent years, Irish state radio said today, quoting government data. RTE said it had received the data about the flights from the government under freedom of information laws."

Data Protection

EUpolitix - EU heads for data retention deal
"Controversial data retention proposals are set for a first reading agreement in the European Parliament following a meeting of Europe’s justice ministers on Friday."

Monday, December 05, 2005

Train Times of 7/7 bombings

A blog has been set related to an FOIA request for the exact times the trains involved in the 7/7 bombings left. Metropolitan Police cite S30 "Investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities" as a reason for non-disclosure and outline the public interest considerations, one of them being that there is enough information in the public domain.

Read the response in full
Office for National Statistics (ONS) to become indepedent


The Times -Brown liberates statistics body to end spin claims
"The Chancellor tried to ensure that he and the Government win credit for the extra tens of billions of pounds invested in the public services as he announced that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) will be reformed in the same way as the Bank of England was given independence after Labour came to power."
Latest decision notices

A few interesting DNs here, though most are still fairly procedural rather than exemptions considerations.

A few worth looking at are: the Calderdale Council case (S40 - Data Protection interaction) and Northants Police Speed cameras case (Section 31 (prejudice to Law Enforcement) and Section 38 (Health and Safety) exemptions : "While the Commissioner recognises that there is a public interest in informing the debate about adequacy of signage for speed cameras, he does not believe that the release of the requested information would inform that debate. He believes that there is a stronger public interest in avoiding the likely increased risk to the health and safety of any individual and the likely increase of non-compliance with road traffic laws. The Commissioner is also persuaded that the release of the requested information would undermine Northants Police’s policy of intermittent activation of speed cameras. This policy is based on the premise that the risk of enforcement is as strong a deterrent as the certainty of enforcement. This policy is more cost effective than permanent activation of speed cameras because less speeding fines are issued and less administrative costs incurred.."

Case Ref: FAC0070222
Date: 28/11/05
Public Authority: The Security Industry Authority (SIA)
Summary: The complainant twice made a specific request for information from the SIA, who did not respond within 20 working days. In addition, it did not respond fully to the specific requests, instead duplicating information readily available on its website. Therefore, the SIA have also failed to provide advice and assistance to the complainant, in breach of s.16 of the Act. However, the SIA did later provide the information requested so the Commissioner does not require any remedial steps.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld; s.16 - Complaint Upheld.
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FAC0070222


Case Ref: FS50075959
Date: 25/11/05
Public Authority: Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
Summary: On 28/03/05 the complainant submitted a request to the CPS, in 23 parts, concerning a particular type of speed camera. The complainant made a further request for information on 20/04/05. The CPS did not respond until 03/10/05, outside of the statutory time limit, when it provided a refusal notice in accordance with section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Given that this response has been given, the Information Commissioner requires no further steps to be taken.
Section of the Act/EIR and Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld.
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50075959


Case Ref: FS50075953
Date: 25/11/05
Public Authority: London Borough of Brent
Summary: The complainant made a request for several pieces of information relating to the disposal of a property leased from Brent Council, including 2 particular letters. Brent Council informed the complainant that they were unable to supply the two letters because it did not hold them, although the complainant maintained that these letters were in their possession. However, investigations by this office have found that there is no evidence to support this claim and the Commissioner is satisfied that the London Borough of Brent do not hold these letters.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: s.1 - Complaint Not Upheld.
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50075953


Case Ref: FS50068019
Date: 25/11/05
Public Authority: The Adjudicator for the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise (The Adjudicator's Office)
Summary: The complainant made an information request to the Adjudicator's Office relating to the Adjudicator's Office Service Level Agreement. The information was not provided because the Adjudicator's Office said that it did not hold any of the requested details, a view the complainant challenged. The complainant also believed that the Adjudicator's Office should have provided him with advice and assistance under s.16 of the Act that would have allowed him to frame his request in such a way that he would have received the information. After investigation the Commissioner is satisfied that the Adjudicator's Office does not hold the information. In relation to the Service Level Agreement there was no advice or assistance that could have been offered that have led to the complainant receiving the information.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Not Upheld; s.16 - Complaint Not Upheld.
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50068019


Case Ref: FS50068973
Date:24/11/05
Public Authority: Calderdale Council
Summary: The complainant requested information from the Council relating to the recruitment of social workers from Australia and New Zealand. Some of the information requested by the complainant was released but the Council declined to disclose the names of the officers who went abroad, citing section 40 (personal data). It also refused to disclose other details citing section 42 (legal professional privilege). The Commissioner decided that the names of the officers did constitute personal data but disclosing those names would not breach any of the data protection principles, therefore the exemption provided by section 40 (2) was not applicable in this case. In relation to section 42 the Commissioner decided the legal advice was covered by legal professional privilege but this case the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed the public interest in disclosure.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.40 - Complaint Upheld; s.42 - Complaint Not Upheld.
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50068973


Case Ref: FS50066050
Date: 24/11/05
Public Authority: Chief Officer of Northamptonshire Police ("Northants Police")
Summary: The complainant requested information relating to speeding offences recorded by the speed camera at Kelmarsh on the A508. Northants Police refused to provide this information citing the Section 31 (prejudice to Law Enforcement) and Section 38 (Health and Safety) exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act duty to disclose. Northants Police further argued that the public interest in maintaining these exemptions outweighed the public interest in disclosing the requested information. The Commissioner agrees with the exemptions applied in this case and has considered the public interest arguments. It is believed that there is a stronger public interest in this case in maintaining the two exemptions cited.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.31 - Complaint Not Upheld; FOI s.38 - Complaint Upheld.
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50066050


Case Ref: FS50074578
Date: 24/11/05
Public Authority: Department of Trade and Industry
Summary: The complainant requested copies of various bankruptcy orders, to which the public authorities informed the complainant that the information was not held. The Commissioner is satisfied that this was communicated to the complainant and furthermore, that the duty to advise and assist under section 16 was adhered to.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Not Upheld.
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50074578


Case Ref: FS50065750
Date:24/11/05
Public Authority: Department of Work and Pensions
Summary: The complainant made a number of requests for information from the Child Support Agency (CSA) - part of the Department of Work and Pensions - on three separate dates. The complainant alleged that the CSA failed to provide him with all the information requested and that the information was not provided within 20 working days. The Commissioner has decided that two of these requests were in fact requests for his own personal data and therefore exempt under section 40(1) of the Act. A request was also made for a copy of the CSA's publication scheme which the Commissioner has decided is accessible by other means and therefore exempt under section 21 of the Act. The Commissioner also considers that one of the questions was not a valid FOI request. However, the CSA did fail to respond to one of the complainant's requests within 20 working days.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Not Upheld; FOI s.10 Complaint Upheld.
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50065750


Case Ref: FS50068389
Date:24/11/05
Public Authority: Greater Manchester Police (GMP)
Summary: The complainant requested details of policies in place at GMP. The request was not responded to by GMP until the Information Commissioner's Office made contact and a response was sent thereafter. A Decision Notice was therefore issued with regard to GMP's failure to respond within the statutory 20 working day period.
Section of Act & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50068389


Case Ref: FS50073295
Date: 24/11/05
Public Authority: Great Ness and Little Ness Parish Council
Summary: The complainant requested copies of Parish Council minutes and Newsletters. The Parish Council provided these but did so outside the 20 working day time limit.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld.
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50073295


Case Ref: FS50084412
Date: 24/11/05
Public Authority: Home Office
Summary: The complainant wrote to the Home Office on 9/3/05 to request a copy of a particular review. The Home Office sent acknowledgement letters on 23/3/05 and 16/5/05, however, they failed within the statutory 20 working day limit to; confirm or deny whether the specified information was held, communicate the specified information and/or issue a notice refusing to provide the specified information. In not correctly notifying the complainant of the need for an extension to the time limit to answer the request, the Home office is found to be in breach of section 10 and section 17. A final response to the request was made on 10/11/05, where some information was provided and other items were withheld.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Upheld; FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld; FOI s.17 - Complaint Upheld.
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50084412


Case Ref: FS50076641
Date: 17/11/05
Public Authority: Bretforton Parish Council
Summary: The complainant wrote to the Council on 17/01/05 requesting information relating to specific meetings, procedures and statements. The Council responded telling the complainant that the request had been 'forwarded to their legal advisors'. The complainant sent further letters reiterating the original request but did not receive a response from the Council in accordance with the Act. Following the intervention of the Commissioner, the Council supplied the information requested on 2/9/05.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Upheld; FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld; FOI s.17 - Complaint Upheld.
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50076641

Media Update

The Scotsman - Medical errors harm one Scot every hour
"The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), show that last year alone a total of almost 56,000 patients were injured in hospitals, an astonishing 32,000 of them in slips and falls."

Daily Telegraph - General may be questioned over body armour death
"Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that a British officer was told that six members of the Royal Military Police were trapped by an Iraqi mob in Majar Al Kabir were still alive when reinforcements reached the town, but a rescue mission was aborted because the situation was regarded as too dangerous."

Daily Telegraph - Tate and bile as Stuckists round on arts elite
"
From papers disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, the Tate has admitted that it has acquired works by at least six trustees while they were serving on the galleries' board since 1997. Whitehall says that such work should rarely be acquired to prevent "the perception of a conflict of interest"."

Daily Telegraph - Shortage of aircraft leaves the Paras without wings
"The Ministry of Defence refused to give the numbers of paratroopers who had passed the two-week course in the past year, suggesting that The Daily Telegraph request them under the Freedom of Information Act."

The Guardian - Cross-party MPs push for total smoking ban
"It also emerged last week that 90% of respondents to a government consultation on smoking opposed a partial ban. This only emerged after Cancer Research UK got hold of the findings under the Freedom of Information Act. "

The Guardian - Hit squads to tackle £900m NHS deficit
"The health secretary Patricia Hewitt yesterday ordered budgetary hit squads into the 50 highest overspending health authorities and trusts in England to halt an escalating financial crisis that threatens the stability of the NHS. In response to an application from the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act, she released confidential returns forecasting a collective overspend of £623m by the end of the financial year. A quarter of all the country's trusts are forecasting deficits that total £948m."

Hospital Doctor - Trust refuses to reveal spending
"Hospital Doctor understands Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust has paid McKinsey & Co millions of pounds since appointing it in May 2004 to support its 'Delivering Excellence' efficiency drive. Hospital Doctor asked the trust, under the Freedom of Information Act, to reveal how much it had paid McKinsey over the past two years. It refused, saying both parties' commercial interests would be prejudiced."

Local News

Surreyonline - Plans for 2,500 homes have cost you £67,000
"The cost of drawing up the rejected draft development plans for 2,500 houses and a relief road in East Grinstead is going to cost council taxpayers a whopping £67,000, the Observer can exclusively reveal. "

The Huddersfield Daily Examiner - Call for council to act faster over travellers
"In September the Examiner exclusively revealed the cost to the taxpayer of cleaning up after travellers.Figures released by the council under the Freedom of Information Act showed it has cost £75,000 in the last five years."

West Midlands Express and Star - Street is worst for burglaries
"A Stourbridge street has topped the list of burglary hotspots in the Dudley Borough, according to police figures. Claycroft Place in Lye has suffered more burglaries than anywhere else in Dudley causing a nightmare for residents. The street, made up of a row of flats just off Lye High Street, is regularly targeted by burglars according to the police figures revealed under the Freedom of Information Act. "

Serious about news (Bedfordshire) - Paramedics' discipline record slumps badly
"Following a Freedom of Information request from Bedfordshire on Sunday to the service, we can reveal between September 2004 and September 2005 there were ten disciplinaries. Five members of staff where handed first written warnings, while the other five were given a final written warning."

Herts and Essex online - Takeaways: the good, the bad and the ugly
"THE shocking work practices discovered by hygiene inspectors at takeaways in Hertford and Ware can be exclusively revealed by the Mercury today (Friday, 02 December). Dirty kitchens, out-of-date food, an absence of soap and hot water for staff to wash their hands and chickens defrosting in the washing-up sink — these were the horrors contained in environmental health reports we obtained under the Freedom of Information Act."

US FOI

The Herald (Scotland) US soldiers’ families allege loan discrimination by HSBC
"HSBC stands accused of "defrauding" US military personnel, some of whom are on duty in Iraq, by overcharging them on high interest loans, according to a study out today from a leading US-based human rights group."

Index on Censorship -Does the US ban visitors whose ideas it dislikes?
"The American Association of University Professors, the PEN American Center and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a lawsuit to compel the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security and the CIA to release documents that will shed light on their strategy. The suit follows the failure of these agencies to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that the ACLU filed in March for records concerning the exclusion of foreign scholars and intellectuals from the United States under Section 411 of the USA PATRIOT Act. "

International news
Fiji Times - Bill will shatter secrecy
"FREEDOM of Information legislation will change the culture of secrecy in Fiji, Solicitor-General Nainendra Nand believes. Mr Nand said how well the legislation worked would depend on those who administered it. He said Cabinet had approved in principle the Freedom of Information Bill last month and it would now be given to stakeholders for comments."