Friday, April 28, 2006

Blog postings

Postings will be fairly quiet for about a further week whilst I take some time off to enjoy the latest addition to my family

Do send me or use the comment box below to readers up to date with anything I may miss

New decision - ICO rules on mod CASE

Case Ref: FS50073980
Date: 19/04/06
Public Authority: Ministry of Defence
Summary: The complainant requested a copy of the March 2004 edition of the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO) Directory, but the MOD released only a redacted copy, citing section 21 (information accessible by other means), section 36 (prejudice to the conduct of public affairs), section 38 (health and safety) and section 40 (personal information). After investigating the case the Commissioner is satisfied that the section 36 is engaged but has judged that the public interest in maintaining the section 36 exemption is not strong enough to outweigh the public interest in disclosure. The Commissioner has also decided section 38 has not been correctly applied, and that in the absence of persuasive evidence explaining how disclosure will endanger the health and safety of individuals section 38 is not engaged. Additionally he is satisfied section 21 has been correctly applied to some information, although he can see no basis for the MOD continuing to redact information falling within section 21 in light of his decision requiring disclosure of the remaining information. The Commissioner did not consider the application of section 40 in detail because the MOD considered the strength of its case rested on section 36. The Commissioner therefore requires the MOD to disclose all the information requested by the complainant, other than that which is exempt under section 21 of the Act.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.36 - Complaint Upheld, s.38 - Complaint Upheld, s.40 - Complaint Upheld, s.21 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50073980

Also see the Guardian story

Monday, April 24, 2006

New decision notices - first detailed notice on S41

Some further decisions, the Boston Council case will be of interest as it is one of the first cases relating to the S41 exemption "Information provided in confidence". The complaint has not been upheld and the IC agrees that the disclosure would have been an actionable breach of confidence. The decision notice is important as it shows how the IC outlines the application of the exemption and whether the information was confidential and consideration of whether the disclosure was an actionable breach, the IC considers the whether the public interest defence could have been used against any action:

The public interest may override any breach of a duty of confidence, if the greater public interest lies in the disclosure of the information, i.e. if there is an overriding public interest in disclosing the information, the courts will not find that a duty of confidence is owed. The Commissioner must, therefore, consider the public interest in disclosing the information against the public interest in maintaining the duty of confidence, with a view to deciding if any duty exists.

The decision contains a detailed discussed of the public interest before it concludes that the public interest does not override the duty of confidentiality. The discussion is clearly set out and explained and will act as an important example of how practitioners need to approach the exemption.

Case Ref: FS50067992
Date: 12/04/06
Public Authority: Department for Constitutional Affairs
Summary: The complainant requested copies of any judgements that may have been made relating to the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003. The request was made to Her Majesty's Courts Service, which is an executive agency of the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The Department did not issue a refusal notice in accordance with section 17 of the Act, and the Commissioner has judged that it did not handle the request in accordance with Part 1 of the Act, particularly with regard to the time for compliance outlined in section 10. During the course of the Commissioner's review the Department for Constitutional Affairs applied section 12 of the Act, which permits an exemption from the duty to comply with a request where the cost of compliance exceeds the appropriate limit. In light of this fact the Commissioner ordered that the Courts Service must take steps to issue a refusal notice under section 17 of the Act within the time for compliance specified in the Decision Notice.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.22 - Complaint Upheld, s.11 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50067992

Case Ref: FS50064581
Date: 06/04/06
Public Authority: Boston Borough Council
Summary: The complainant requested a copy of a report, provided to the Council by a charitable company, relating to the charity's management of a sports arena, including financial and commercial information. The Council applied section 41 (information provided in confidence), and section 43 (commercial interests) and disclosure a redacted version; however, the Complainant wanted an unredacted copy of the report. The Commissioner found that a duty of confidence exists, and that the information was exempt from disclosure under section 41 of the Act as this would produce an actionable breach of that duty.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.41 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50064581

Case Ref: FER0065671
Date: 23/3/06
Public Authority: The Commissioner for Administration in England (the Local Government Ombudsman)
Summary: The complainant requested copies of any information, held on any investigation file, which related to the construction of his property. The Public Authority responded by claiming that, under section 44 of the Act, there is a statutory prohibition on disclosing any information it holds as a result of an investigation. The authority did not confirm or deny whether it held the relevant information. The Commissioner investigated the application of the exemption and is satisfied that the Authority is under a statutory duty not to disclose any information it holds as a result of investigations it has carried out. The Commissioner also considered whether any information the Authority may hold would fall within the scope of the Environmental Information Regulations. The Commissioner decided that if any information were held the Ombudsman would be exempted from disclosing this under regulation 12 (5) (d).
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Not Upheld, EIR Regulation 5 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FER0065671
Constitutional Affairs Committee written evidence:

Inquiry: Freedom of Information: one year on

The committee have now made a volume of written evidence available to download (PDF). My evidence has been included, alongside evidence from:

-The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO)
-British Broadcasting Corporation
-Department for Constitutional Affairs
-Friends of the Earth
-General Medical Council
-Alasdair Roberts, Association Professor of public administration,
Syracuse University
-Lord Lester of Herne Hill
-Maurice Frankel, Director, Campaign for Freedom of Information

I previously posted my evidence on the blog as a PDF.
Media update

National news

Independent - Criminals using FoI Act to identify informants
"Murderers and convicted criminals are using the Freedom of Information Act to try to identify the police informers who helped to jail them."

Daily Telegraph - Companies House admits losing 10 accounts a month
"The official registry of UK companies admitted in a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by The Daily Telegraph that it lost 190 accounts between March 2004 and October 2005."

Daily Telegraph - 'I'm earning a mint. They waste so much money'
"The Sunday Telegraph contacted all 194 health trusts in the UK and, under the Freedom of Information Act, asked them to supply details of their expenditure on private taxis for patients for the period spanning 2000 to 2006. Nearly two-thirds - 126 - provided the information, 11 were "unable" to give details, five said they did not have records of spending on taxis, and 52 failed to respond to our request. The £25 million total is for 2004/05, and the figure for 2005/06 is expected to be about £23.5 million."

Daily Telegraph - Latest games consoles handed out to young jail inmates
"Figures released by the Prison Service under the Freedom of Information Act show that at six young offenders' institutions there are a total of 105 PlayStation 2s costing £100 each, 11 Microsoft Xboxes at £100 each and six hand-held Nintendo Game Boys at £70 each."

Sunday Herald (Scotland) - Enterprise chief demands limits on ‘costly and disruptive’ Freedom of Information Act
"SCOTTISH Enterprise chief executive Jack Perry is demanding reform of the country’s new freedom of information (FOI) law. The agency head, who has been criticised recently for his organisation’s inability to balance its books, wants a crackdown on politicians and journalists who table FOI questions. He says the “irresponsible use” of the legislation is disruptive and backs proposals to narrow the scope of requests."

Sunday Herald (Scotland) - Holyrood doubled shredder budget ahead of FOI law
"HOLYROOD officials doubled their spending on document shredders in the lead up to the freedom of information (FOI) law being introduced. New figures show the budget to destroy records ballooned at the same time the parliament was supposed to be making information available to the public."

Wales on Sunday - Dad fights for truth after HIV blunder
"Haydn has put in Freedom of Information requests since the introduction of the Act in January 2005, allowing members of the public to request information from public bodies. But in a cruel twist, he was told vital documents which could have thrown light on the circumstances surrounding the infection of 1,200 people with HIV through blood were destroyed in a civil service blunder."

Observer - Tainted blood victims allege official cover-up
"After several victims lodged a freedom of information request earlier this year, they was told they had been erroneously destroyed, some during the early Nineties and the remainder between July 1994 and March 1998." - How much does NHS IT chief Granger earn?
"The Department of Health (DoH) is dragging its feet over releasing details of NHS IT chief Richard Granger's salary, bonuses and expenses despite a request made by under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act."

Computer Weekly - Health officials say IT scheme has enough scrutiny in response to technical audit call
"In 2005, Computer Weekly asks for details of the 2002 Downing Street seminar under the Freedom of Information Act, and the request is refused."

Press Gazette - BBC urged to disclose presenters’ salaries after tabloid pay leaks
"The BBC believes that journalists' salaries is information held for "journalistic, literary or artistic purposes" and therefore not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Since the FoI Act came into force last January, the corporation has routinely cited this derogation to bat away requests about the remuneration of high-profile broadcasters, including Paxman, John Humphrys, Huw Edwards, Fiona Bruce, Andrew Marr, Kirsty Wark, Gary Lineker and Michael Parkinson. The corporation has also rejected requests, including one from Press Gazette, to reveal the salaries of its 25 highest-paid journalists without naming them."

Regional news
Morecombe today - How clean is your restaurant?
"Lancaster City Council is the first authority in Lancashire and one of only a handful in England to put its food hygiene inspection reports online.
More than 90 inspection outcomes are currently listed on the website ( and this number is expected to rise to over 700 during the next 12 months.

Cambridge Evening news
"We are able to lift the lid on the details of the big cat evidence after we demanded details under the Freedom of Information Act. There have been a number of credible reports of a creature like a black panther - while other witnesses have described seeing a lynx-like creature. The evidence suggests that far from being mythical, there really is a beast or two roaming the wilderness. Sightings from Balsham to Ely and Granchester to Alconbury Weston add credibility to the once-mocked theory of a big cat in the fens."

Birmingham Post - Revealed - Who gets what on the arts front
"the size of grants given to bodies such as the CBSO and the Birmingham Royal Ballet - even though both organisations publish details of all income sources in their annual reports. Following a Freedom of Information Act request by The Birmingham Post, a breakdown of awards to 12 organisations has been disclosed by the council."

Overseas FOI

Reuters - US releases extensive list of Guantanamo detainees
"The Pentagon late on Wednesday released its most extensive list of foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, providing the names and nationalities of 558 detainees who went through a hearing process there. The Pentagon posted the 11-page list on its Web site in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Associated Press."

Canada - Vancouver Sun - Liberals 'not inclined' to open up about $100-million trust
"Liberals have rebuffed two requests to include the $100-million New Relationship Trust under freedom of information and protection of privacy legislation."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

HoC Constitutional Affairs Committee: Freedom of Information: one year on

The final evidence session took place yesterday, 18th April, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs gave evidence

Watch at, click on archive and search under Committees

Some very interesting issues/news/views emerged in her evidence:

- the Section 45 Code of Practice is due for review later in 2006
- On Delay: no "systemic problems"
- On Clearing House transparency: "information must be given in context", committee pressed for greater information about the workings of the clearing house
- Expanded role of the clearing house to cover local government? DCA not suitable- local government could "Develop themselves", with DCA support/advice, will discuss with the Information Commissioner
- Bid for additional resources for the Information Commissioner (see previous post): extra £550,000 to be given by the DCA (plus extra 300K to be saved in efficiency)
- Discussion of whether the IC should report directly to Parliament (instead of DCA), as in Scotland
-Fees review - not yet near the stage of full public consultation - would involve the user group initially (Baroness Ashton's position seemed to be rather unclear on the whole issue)
-Discussion of records management and preservation of digital records

Full transcript should be available in a few weeks

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Publication schemes

The ICO have contacted me about the post I made about the review of publication schemes last week. The timetable I referenced is about to be superseded by a new policy on publication scheme review (should be announced within the next week or two). The ICO are in the process of withdrawing this timetable from their website and will be replacing it with revised information. I will as ever post the information as soon as I get it.

Thanks to those who have sent emails on the subject - do keep them coming
Wolfowitz Stresses "Media and FOI" as Anticorruption Tools

"World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz on April 11 put "the media and freedom of information" at the heart of his anti-corruption agenda, raising intriguing, if yet unanswered, questions about the specifics of his plans."

Monday, April 17, 2006

New decision - first major fees case

This case is interesting, the complaint relating to Section 12 was upheld, a decision that given the evidence presented by the MoD would seem fair, but I wonder whether the Information Commissioner could have give further consideration to the following issues: was the initial refusal: "On 5th April 2005 the public authority refused the request on the grounds that “the War Pensions Computer System that records and runs the War Pensions scheme is unable to identify this particular (Falklands) conflict and therefore no figures are available." a clear response under S17?

Although there was not a statutory need to do so I wonder whether the issue of making a charge could have been discussed with the MoD.

Also I would also suggest that the ICO could go further in the investigation and perhaps show some evidence of scutinising the MoD's claims in more detail: they could have gone to the MoD and looked at the computer system themselves in situ and asked to see the data structure "live". Or the ICO could have asked for systems based evidence of the full database structures used by the computer system. I also would contend that complex cost cases such as this one involving IT systems will crop up on on a regular basis at the ICO and hope that the ICO have officers with specialist IT skills to tackle these cases with a high level of scrutiny.

Finally the case raises issues about the whole issue of the obtaining information held in databases - requests can often be denied due to costs limits being breached by poor data structure and how even "new" databases will often pose this problem. The issue will be for databases to be designed (within reasonable limits) with not just the business requirements of the public authority but bearing in my mind future public interest in the data, that may be different to the business need.

In this case in terms of best practice the ICO could have asked whether the Mod had any future plans to make this data available as a historical resource using a new database or make suggestions using a practice recommendation - though I would accept this could be seen as beyond the remit of the ICO. As ever happy to have comments added below.

Case Ref: FS50084565
Date: 13/04/06
Public Authority: Ministry of Defence.
The complainant requested information about Falklands War Veterans in receipt of a War Pension due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The MoD refused the request on the grounds that the collation of the information would exceed the costs limit. The Commissioner investigated this claim and was satisfied that the MoD had applied the section 12 exemption correctly.
Section of Act/EIR & Findings: FOI s.12 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50084565
Media update

Scotsman- Complaints soar as public's right to know is denied
"PUBLIC bodies that consistently fail to comply with Freedom of Information legislation are to be named and shamed as part of a crackdown on the way they operate, The Scotsman can reveal."

Scotsman - Lack of cash may have hit hepatitis C patient search
"HUNDREDS of patients who contracted hepatitis C through infected blood products may not have been traced because of a lack of funding from the health service, documents showed yesterday."

Daily Telegraph - Blair 'dodged tax by not paying business rates on home office'
"However, that would make Mr Blair liable to pay business rates on the office, and, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, he has made no such payments." - Ministers rattled by Gazprom’s advances
"Ministers and officials went into a series of hurriedly arranged meetings to agree a line. Eight meetings involving Department of Trade and Industry officials – four attended by other departments – were held to discuss the “possible consequences resulting from any takeover of a major GB energy supplier”, the DTI said in response to a Freedom of Information request by the FT."

Regional news
Cambridge Evening News - Bans from school hit 1,000
"In the 2005 autumn term, from September to December, a massive 1,007 pupils were suspended from secondary schools in the county - more than 13 each day....The figures, which were released by Cambridgeshire County Council following a request under the Freedom of Information Act, also show 22 students were suspended for theft, 38 for verbally abusing other pupils and eight for damaging property."

Hamstead and Highgate Express - £3million Camden nest egg going begging
"Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Ham&High has learned that of the £3.5million received in exchange for planning permission over the past two years, just £346,149 has been spent."

"B &NES Tories have used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a letter sent by the Millennium Commission to long-time spa critic Dan Norris MP. The letter proved the council could have sold the spa two years ago without losing its £8m Commission grant."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Review of publication schemes

The ICO has set the following deadlines (scroll down) for the review of publication schemes:

Sector Submissions Accepted From Final Submission Deadline Scheme Active
Central Government 1st July 2006 30th September 2006 30th November 2006
Local Government 1st October 2006 31st December 2006 28th February 2007
Police and Prosecuting Bodies 1st February 2007 30th April 2007 30th June 2007
Health Service 1st June 2007 31st August 2007 31st October 2007
Education (except for maintained nursery schools), remaining NDPBs and publicly owned companies 1st October 2007 31st December 2007 29th February 2008
Other public authorities and maintained nursery schools 1st February 2008 30th April 2008 30th June 2008

A practitioner has contacted the blog to ask about how other public authorities in the first wave are approaching the review of their publication scheme and looking at greater integration with websites/sitemaps and information asset registers (re-use regulations), plus also use of the ISPV/LCS etc. I'm therefore posting this as a call for comments/advice on the approaches being taken (please add below or email to me). I will summarise in a posting at later date.

(further guidance should be coming from the ICO later this year)
Decision notice update

Case Ref: FS50087619
Date: 10/04/06
Public Authority: Driving Standards Agency
Summary: On 22 June 2005 the complainant requested information relating to how the Approved Driving Instructor Register exercises discretion and decides what constitutes a fit and proper person. The DSA responded by stating that there is no definitive answer to what constitutes a fit and proper person, but explained to the complainant that the term was referred to in the Road Traffic Act 1998 and supplied the relevant extract; the complainant was not satisfied with this response and complained to the Commissioner. Following an investigation by the Commissioner the DSA explained that the ADI register made decisions based on the merits of each case and on all the information available to him. The Commissioner accepts the DSA's explanation that sets of guideline or would be too restrictive on the work of the registrar. The Commissioner has therefore decided that the DSA have dealt with the complainant's request in accordance with section 1 of the Act.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50087619

Case Ref: FS50076850
Date: 21/03/06
Public Authority: Architects Registration Board (ARB)
Summary: On 12 April 2005 the complainant requested a copy of a letter detailing the Register's decision relating to a complaint about one of the ARB's members. On 12 May 2005 the ARB refused the request on the grounds that the exemption under section 41 (information provided in confidence) applied. The Commissioner has decided that the ARB misapplied section 41, and in refusing disclosure and failing to respond substantively within 20 working days, they did not deal with the complaint's request in accordance with the requirements of the Act. However, as the information was subsequently provided, there are no further steps required.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld, s.41 - Complaint Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50076850

Case Ref: FER0071799
Date: 11/04/06
Public Authority: UK Trade & Investment (UKTI)
Summary: Several documents were disclosed in response to a request for information concerning the West Africa Gas Pipeline and the Chad/Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline project. However, UKTI withheld various documents on the grounds that their release would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of international relations and that they contained personal data. The Commissioner examined the documents and considered that release of the information would be detrimental to both relationships between the UK and other states, and to working relations between the government and international financial institutions. These outcomes would in turn affect the government's ability to protect and promote the UK's interests overseas. The Commissioner therefore decided that the withheld documents should not be released.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.27 and s.40 - Complaint Not Upheld, EIR 12(5)(a) - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FER0071799

Case Ref: FS50066908
Date: 10/04/06
Public Authority: Bristol North Primary Care Trust
Summary: The complainants requested a copy of CCTV footage relating to an alleged incident of vandalism in one of the PCT's car parks. The trust refused access to the information under section 40 of the Act, stating that it was personal data and release would breach the data protection principles. The Commissioner then investigated the nature and purpose of the CCTV cameras involved and reviewed the CCTV footage itself. Having done this, it was decided that the images were personal data and their disclosure would breach the first data protection principle, and so the exemption applied was held to be valid. As a result the Decision Notice does not identify any steps to be taken; however, when first refusing the complainants' request for information the PCT did not respond within 20 working days, and the Commissioner has therefore found that this breached section 10 of the Act.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld, FOI s.40 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50066908
Media update - Information Commissioner criticised for FOIA implementation
"The Freedom of Information Act has produced wider access to information – but the legislation has been implemented in a way that hinders requests, and the Information Commissioner is partly to blame, a House of Commons committee has heard."

BBC news - Ministers quizzed on RAF flights
"A breakdown of each minister's use of the aircraft - officially known as 32 (The Royal) Squadron - was published by the Ministry of Defence in response to a freedom of information request."

Also view the documents at the MOD disclosure log

Press Gazette - BBC faces crunch ruling on FoI
"The BBC is facing a landmark ruling from the Information Tribunal that will test a tactic it has used to reject more than 400 Freedom of Information requests...The scope of that derogation will be tested by the Information Tribunal on 14 June when it holds a hearing about whether the corporation should be compelled to publish a report on its coverage of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict written by senior editorial advisor Malcolm Balen (pictured)."

Supply University U-turn on tender charges
"A university that was charging companies just to tender for its printing contract has backed down following pressure from a printing federation.....But the University of Hertfordshire admitted it had made a mistake after the British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF) used the Freedom of Information Act to investigate why it was charging and what the sums were used for."

The Times - Driver wins right to see police note
"A police officer has been ordered under the Freedom of Information Act to hand over his notebook to a motorist who complained about his behaviour."
International media update


Mercury News - House committee calls for less secrecy in federal agencies
"WASHINGTON - In a rare attempt to place restrictions on the executive branch, a House of Representatives committee has approved legislation that would remove secrecy veils from some government documents, ban government propaganda in the United States and limit lobbying by former government employees"

CNN - Judge blasts government secrecy
"The judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial ruled Friday that families of September 11 attack victims are entitled to the same unclassified aviation security documents the government turned over to the al Qaeda conspirator's defense team."

One world - Implementation of Free Access to Information Law Lacking
"In spite of the fact that over a year has passed since the entry into force of the Law on Free Access to Information in Serbia, its implementation has been weak and the citizens are largely uninformed about the rights they have under this Law."


Ministry of Justice - Finland - Transparency of European Union decision-making to increase during Finland’s Presidency
"One of the objectives of the Finnish Presidency of the European Union is to increase the transparency of the proceedings of the Council, the Union's main decision-making institution. Means of achieving this include promoting access to documents, ensuring efficient communications and enhancing the transparency of decision-making."

Government of Canada - Strengthening access to information legislation
"To promote a culture of openness and accessibility, the Government will strengthen access to information legislation."

Draft Bill on ATIA

Discussion Paper

Edmonton Journal - Alberta civil servant could face charges over doctored evidence
"In an unprecedented move, the province's information commissioner has asked a special prosecutor to determine whether an Alberta government employee should be charged for deliberately trying to mislead a public inquiry by submitting doctored evidence."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Selection secrecy for FOI users group

Heather at YRTK makes some valid comment about the DCA User group and has managed to finally found out the membership via an FOI request.

I made a posting on the subject November of last year.
Information Commissioner's business case to the DCA

In his evidence (see from Q42) to the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee inquiry into FOI the Information Commissioner discussed in some detail with the MPs on the Committee the issue of the backlog (the ICO estimate to be 700 cases- "unallocated cases"), their recovery plan and their business case to the DCA (their sponsoring dept) for an extra £1.13M to clear the backlog.

A blog reader (thanks David) has made a request to the ICO for the business case. The ICO have now decided they are in a position to release: "the ICO has received a number of requests for this document but has not previously disclosed it as it was felt that its release would be likely to be prejudicial to the discussions which are still ongoing with the DCA over funding and resource issues, based heavily on the information contained in this document. After careful and lengthy consideration however it was decided that the discussions with the DCA have now progressed sufficiently for it to be released."

Download the business case (PDF)

Whilst there has been much criticism over the last year, this document does help paint a slightly more positive picture in terms of the ICO being aware of the problems, taking steps to improve.

It is useful to note the time taken to close cases is clearly set out and a target has been set for improvement: "The corporate target for 2005-06 is to close 50% of cases within 60 working days. At 31 December 2005, 48% of cases had been closed within this time. We project that we will be within +/- 5% of the target by the year end."

(In Scotland the legislation is different as the Act sets a target - "Section 49 (3) of the of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002"- states that the Commissioner must make a decision in relation to an application before the expiry of four months after receiving it or ‘before the expiry of such other period as is reasonable in the circumstances’.)

Though it is unclear whether the DCA have yet granted the request in part or in full the ICO would seem deserving of some extra funds given some of the problems outlined before (geographical position of the office, salary levels etc), however 2006 is a crucial year for FOI - the public do have a right to a better standard of service and levels of enforcement than has been seen in 2005 (especially when comparing over the border in Scotland). There are signs in 2006 that the nature and quality of decisions are improving and delivering real advances for FOI.

Why is the ICO in this situation? Putting aside some of the "mis-management" causes my view is that the problems at the ICO were also driven by some external factors, and that some of these could have been assesed and addressed in more detail:

-the long 5 year lead-in time meant many complex requests were stored up and were ready to be unleashed in 2005, leading to complex complaints (This lead in was out of the ICO's control)

-the Act was retrospective and thus compounded the problem (for e.g. the Irish Act in comparison was not retrospective)

- the Internet age means it is "easier" for requests and complaints to be sent than in previous eras. High volumes of correspondence can easily be sent by email. The comparison with overseas examples had to balanced against this situation that the UK was the first major FOI implementation of the Internet age. The issue of managing public expectation in the Internet age is complex (see the Work Foundation report on ICT & public services)

-The levels of suspicion and dissatisfcation with politicians and public services (e.g.: Survey of public attitudes towards conduct in public life & Cabinet Office public attitudes to public services survey) meant that high levels of complaints were likely, challenging any perceived breach of the Act

-The ICO did not forsee the general level of interest in the whole FOI process and did make enogh information publicly available about their procceses and the decisions being made. They then became subject to further FOI requests themselves that only served to stretch resources further.

and on the issue of e-government:
-The ICO did not try to use the opportunity their website gave them to streamline the complaints via a clearly flagged online form system. Whilst it is to be accepted that they have no statutory powers to insist forms could be used a much clearer step by step process on the website could have attracted a high % and allowed for much earlier assessment of "information gaps" and complaint validity.

Interested to have comments posted below
Parliamentary roundup

Some selected FOI related PQs and answers of interest, read more at

Harriet Harman's answer on internal reviews again illstrates how weak this process is.

Written answers

Thursday, 23 March 2006

Norman Baker (Lewes, Liberal Democrat) Hansard source

To ask the Prime Minister what steps he takes to ensure that his answering practices are consistent with the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Tony Blair (Prime Minister) Hansard source

Practice and procedures are set out in the February 2005 Cabinet Office guidance to departments entitled Guidance to Officials on Drafting Answers to Parliamentary Questions." Copies of the guidance are available in the Libraries of the House

Thursday, 23 March 2006
Constitutional Affairs
Philip Dunne (Ludlow, Conservative) Hansard source

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what the maximum period is for a response from a body subject to an appeal after refusal to provide information for a freedom of information request.

Harriet Harman (Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs) Hansard source

There is no maximum period for the completion of an internal review requested after a refusal to provide information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). However the Secretary of State issued a code of practice

under section 45 of the Act advising public authorities that complaints on the handling of freedom of information requests should be dealt with in accordance with their own complaints procedures. They may set their own target times for dealing with complaints, but these should be reasonable and subject to regular review.

Guidance issued by my Department to public authorities:

conducting internal reviews advises that they should be completed in a reasonable timescale. It recommends that simple reviews should be dealt with within two-three weeks. Complex reviews should be dealt with within six weeks.

A person concerned that a public authority's internal review has taken too long, can complain to the Information Commissioner who could then issue a (statutory) good practice recommendation—this could lead to the public authority improving its procedures for carrying out internal reviews.

House of Lords
Thursday, 23 March 2006
Lord Laird (Crossbench) Hansard source

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they propose to revise the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 so that no fees are charged for information provided under the Act.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs) Hansard source

Under the Freedom of Information Act, there is an appropriate limit, currently £600 for central government and £450 for other public authorities. This is there to prevent authorities being unable to perform their functions because of FoI requests, for which there has to be an upper limit. Under the current regime, departments can also, where appropriate, charge disbursements for providing information to applicants.

After the first full year of its implementation, the Government are conducting an assessment of the Freedom of Information Act and considering its impact to ensure that it is operating well. When the fees regime was introduced, Ministers committed to reviewing its operation after a year. However, no decisions have yet been taken about any changes to the regime

30 Mar 2006

Baroness Scott of Needham Market
My Lords, can the noble Lord say why, given the roles and responsibilities of the regional assemblies, they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000?

Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lords in Waiting, HM Household) Link to this | Hansard source

My Lords, I was not aware that regional assemblies were not subject to the Freedom of Information Act; I thought that they operated within the various codes of conduct that applied to those who work in local government. It is an important issue, and I am sure that, as a matter of best practice, most regional assemblies would follow what is commonly accepted as the protocols and codes for FoI.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Important new decisions relating to Police sector and DPA

Some important decisions listed below in the Police context, in particular the Suffolk Constabulary notice: showing some precdent in the context of applying the public interest text to use of the S30 exemption Law enforcement: "The Commissioner found that while the exemptions relating to investigations and law enforcement were engaged the public interest did not favour maintenance of the exemptions as the facts of the investigation were known to the complainant and there were no independent witnesses." and also S40 Personal data aspect: "the Commissioner did not consider that disclosure would breach the data protection principles"

These decsions also show some positive signs of prioritisation at the ICO - in terms of clusering similar cases together.

Case Ref: FS50072312
Date: 10/04/06
Public Authority: Corby Borough Council
Summary: The Council refused to comply with a request for information until the Information Commissioner intervened, informing it that it had a duty under the Act to respond to requests. The Council then complied with its duties under section 1(1) of the Act and responded to the complainant, and so as a result the Decision Notice does not contain any steps.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: s.1(1) - Complaint Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50072312

Case Ref: FS50083794
Date: 10/04/06
Public Authority: Duffield Parish Council
Summary: An information request made to the Council was refused because it believed that it has provided all relevant information to the complainant prior to the introduction of the Act. The Commissioner informed the Council that it has a duty under section 1(1) of the Act to respond to the request, which it subsequently did. As a result the Decision Notice does not contain any steps.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: s.1(1) - Complaint Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50083794

Case Ref: FS50088452
Date: 06/04/06
Public Authority: Ministry of Defence
Summary: The complainant requested information about Freedom of Information requests received by the MoD, who replied to the complainant but failed to do so within 20 working days. The Refusal Notice provided did not cite any exemptions or give reasons for the refusal of aspects of the request. However, as the MoD rectified these breaches in an Internal Review and provided additional information to the complainant the Decision Notice does not contain any steps.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld, s.17(a)(b)(c) - Complaint Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50088452

Case Ref: FS50086598
Date: 06/04/06
Public Authority: The Chief Officer of Staffordshire Police ('the Police')
Summary: The complainant requested information about an informant and the Police's actions in relation to this informant. Initially the Police considered the request to be vexatious, but then withdrew this claim once the Commissioner had commenced an investigation. The complainant intimated that he wished to obtain information which would identify the informant, and the Commissioner is satisfied that the specific information requested is not held. The Police considered information that could identify the informant exempt from disclosure under sections 30 (Investigations) and 40 (Personal Information). Section 30 is qualified by a public interest test, and the Commissioner recognises the strong public feel able to provide information to the Police. With regard to section 40, the Commissioner is satisfied that section 40 is engaged and that a disclosure here would be unfair, breaching the first data protection principle. The Commissioner therefore does not require any further action of the Police.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.14 - Complaint Upheld, FOI s.1 - Complaint Not Upheld, FOI s.30 - Complaint Not Upheld, FOI s.40 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50086598

Case Ref: FS50095304
Date: 06/04/06
Public Authority: The Chief Officer of Suffolk Constabulary
Summary: The complainant requested information contained in the notebook of a police constable and a copy of the investigation into allegations of misconduct made by the complainant against the constable. The public authority argued that the requested information was exempt either because it was held for the purposes of an investigation, that disclosure would prejudice the purpose of law enforcement, or that the information comprised personal data. The Commissioner found that while the exemptions relating to investigations and law enforcement were engaged the public interest did not favour maintenance of the exemptions as the facts of the investigation were known to the complainant and there were no independent witnesses. The Commissioner also found that the majority of the personal data in question related to the complainant rather than third parties, and so should be released under section 7 of the Data Protection Act. Insofar as the information related to other persons, the Commissioner did not consider that disclosure would breach the data protection principles.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Upheld, s.30 - Complaint Upheld, s.31 - Complaint Upheld, s.40 - Complaint Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50095304

Case Ref: FS50062508
Public Authority: Warwickshire Police Authority
Summary: The complainant requested information relating to a complaint he had made arising out of disciplinary action taken against him by the police authority. Although he was provided with some information, a report about him was withheld in reliance on exemptions relating to Investigations, Court Records and Legal Professional Privilege. Following the Commissioner's intervention, the Authority provided the complainant with a redacted copy of the withheld information, but it became apparent that an unredacted copy of the withheld report had previously been sent to the complainant. The Commissioner therefore found that the Authority has incorrectly attempted to rely upon the stated exemptions.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Upheld, s.30 - Complaint Upheld, s.32 - Complaint Upheld, s.42 - Complaint Upheld.
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50062508

Monday, April 10, 2006

Constitutional Affairs Select Committe

The audio recording of the Constitutional Affairs Select Committe from the 28th March is available: go to parliament live and search under committees from freedom of information. I appeared at this session with Maurice Frankel, Director, Campaign for the Freedom of Information, David Hencke, journalist, The Guardian, Dr Lydia Pollard, Improvement and Development Agency, Ian Readhead, Deputy Chief Constable Hampshire and Association of Chief Police Officers, Natalie Ceeney, Chief Executive, National Archives.

The video of the ICO's evidence from the 14th is also still available.

I'm also publishing the written submission I made to the Committee: download (PDF)

The next evidence session is the 18th April: Baroness Ashton of Upholland, Under Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs will appear.

The final report from the Committee should be available sometime in June
Latest Information Commissioner decisions

Case Ref: FS50072191
Date: 29/03/06
Public Authority: Llandysul Community Council
Summary: The complainant requested information about a street light in March 2005 but did not receive the information requested or a Refusal Notice. Following the intervention of the Commissioner, the Council issued a Refusal Notice and the complainant was satisfied with this response. The Commissioner does not therefore require any further action by the Council.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Upheld; FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld
Full transcript of Decision Notice FS50072191

Case Ref: FS50094591
Date: 23/03/06
Public Authority: Department for Work and Pensions - Job Centre Plus
Summary: The complainant made a request on 13/10/05 for a Job Centre Plus 'Standard Operating Model'. The public authority asked for clarification of the request, but when the complainant reiterated his request without any clarification they provided the information on 24/11/05. As the Job Centre was able to provide the information without receiving clarification they should have responded within the 20 working day time limit. On the following day the complainant sent a further letter providing further clarification which the Job Centre treated as a new request, and responded on the 29/12/05.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld.
Full transcript of Decision Notice FS50094591

Case Ref: FS50090748
Date: 23/03/06
Public Authority: Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
Summary: On 22/08/05 the complainant requested information relating to the determination of appeals. However, HMRC did not send a full response until 26/10/05, and so the Commissioner has decided that in failing to respond substantively within 20 working days they did not deal with the request in accordance with the requirements of the Act. However, as the complainant has received the information no further information is required.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld
Full transcript of Decision Notice FS50090748

Case Ref: FS50078020
Date: 23/03/06
Public Authority: Milton Keynes Council
Summary: A request for detailed information relating to income from parking services provided by the Public Authority was made on the 20/04/05. The Public Authority responded to the request on the 26/05/05 after a complaint made by the complainant. On the 02/06/05, the complainant wrote to the Public Authority reiterating his request as he felt that there was not enough detail in the information that had been provided; the information was then provided to the complainant's satisfaction on the 24/09/05. The decision notice upholds the complaint against the Public Authority and finds that it was in breach of section 10. No steps are required as the information had been released.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld
Full transcript of Decision Notice FS50078020

Case Ref: FS50081540
Date: 23/03/06
Public Authority: Tendring Primary Care Trust
Summary: The complainant requested information relating to rent reimbursement for doctors' surgeries in the area on 10/02/05, but received a response outside the 20 working day time limit. Investigations confirmed that the statutory time limits had been breached and so the decision notice upholds the complaint against the Public Authority. No steps are required as the information had been provided.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld
Full transcript of Decision Notice FS50081540

Case Ref: FS50082412
Date: 23/03/06
Public Authority: West Gloucestershire Primary Health Care Trust
Summary: The complainants requested information relating to the care of a deceased relative. Some of the information was releasable under the Freedom of Information, while some was more appropriately covered under the terms of the Medical Records Act 1990 or the Data Protection Act 1998. The PCT did not provide the information within 20 working days nor did it issue a Refusal Notice informing the complainants that parts of the request were to be released under different legislation.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.10 - Complaint Upheld
Full transcript of Decision Notice FS50082412

Case Ref: FS50081142
Date: 22/03/06
Public Authority: City of Lincoln Council
Summary: The complainant requested information about the method of construction of their property. The Council responded to the request and stated that it held no further relevant information, but the complainant disputed this. There was no information available to the Commissioner that suggested the relevant information had been withheld by the Council and so the complaint was not upheld.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.1 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50081142
Improving transparency of the EU institutions

The European Parliament takes action to ensure transparency and democratic scrutiny of the EU institutions. In two reports adopted Tuesday, MEPs call for the Council to meet in public when it is acting as a legislator, and requests the Commission to revise existing rules and to table new legislation by the end of this year on "the right of access" to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents.

Read the full document (PDF)
Media update

Independent - Heather Brooke: There's nothing private about an MP's expenses
"Few of us would assume we could claim more than £120,000 in expenses every year without handing over receipts to the boss. Yet that's exactly what Westminster MPs are doing, forgetting that it's the public who put up the £80m claimed for staff, postage, offices, second homes, travel and "additional costs". "

The Herald (Scotland) - Putting a price on disclosure
"To be Dunioned: passive verb, to be the subject of a request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act. In the 15 months since this legislation came into force, Scotland's Information."

The Herald - Watchdog criticises plan to use information-for-cash system
"Scotland's information commissioner has criticised the Irish model of demanding up-front fees when people request official data."

Scotsman - 100 landings on Scots soil by US jets with torture links
"After a Freedom of Information Act request from the Liberal Democrats, the department released air traffic control records of flights made by 20 US-registered aircraft operated by CIA front companies and hire firms known to rent planes to the agency."

The Guardian - Seven out of 10 absent parents pay maintenance for children
"The CSA's figures show that in the three months to the end of last year some 30% of nonresident parents failed to pay. Of women, 31% were nonpayers, while 30% of men did not pay. The figures were released under the Freedom of Information Act."

BBC news - Police reveal officer convictions
"Scores of serving Metropolitan Police officers have drink-driving convictions, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act confirm."

Regional news

Norwich Evening News - Council blocks incinerator truth bid
"The Evening News has tried to find out more about the bids under the Freedom of Information Act. However, the council is refusing to disclose further information claiming it would prejudice the commercial interests of the companies."

Dundee Courirer - ‘Too costly’ for CPS to detail G8 prosecutions
"DETAILS SURROUNDING the number of prosecutions after violent clashes at last summer’s G8 Summit are being withheld by the Crown Prosecution Service. Politicians reacted with fury as numerous cases were dropped in the wake of the meeting of world leaders at Gleneagles in Perthshire. However access to statistics demanded by The Courier under Freedom of Information laws has been denied."

"Figures released to the Press and Journal under the Freedom of Information Act show officers had greater success in stopping illegal meat and meat products in the year to April 2005."

Belfast Telegraph - NIO in the dock over parade body references row
"Papers released under the Freedom of Information Act do not support NIO claims about how officials dealt with DUP member Don MacKay's application to join the Parades Commission."

"On January 1, 2005, a new law came into force, designed to promote the openness and transparency of public organisations across the UK. The Freedom of Information Act was a gateway to increased knowledge, which granted the public 'a general right of access to information held by public authorities'."
Information Rights Conference

The Northumbria Information Rights Conference: Rising to the Challenge, 30th
June 2006 at the Marriott Gosforth Park Hotel, Newcastle Upon Tyne

Confirmed speakers include:

Richard Thomas, The Information Commissioner - giving The Information Commissioner's Perspective
Maurice Frankel, Director of Campaign for Freedom of Information - Assessing the first 18 months
Philip Coppel, Barrister 4-5 Grays Inn Square - The Environmental Information Regulations 2004
Baroness Ashton of Upholland, Department for Constitutional Affairs
Professor Philip Jones, Staffordshire County Council - The challenge of sustaining successful information management in a corporate environment
Timothy Pitt-Payne, Barrister 11 Kings Bench Walk - the Data Protection Act 1998 after Durant v FSA
Helen Morris, Programme Leader LLM Information Rights Law and Practice - The Information Rights Qualification

The price of the conference is £250 per delegate, although a discounted rate of £200 is available for bookings made prior to 30 April 2006 and for academics, NGOs, or where three or more delegates book from the same organisations.

A full brochure in PDF format is available from or 0191 243 7597

Friday, April 07, 2006

al-Jazeera memo

My application for an internal review related to my request for the al-Jazeera memo is having the problems I expected - their deadline for response has extended again.

Dear Mr Wood,

Further to our earlier correspondence with you, I am writing to advise that the Cabinet Office has not yet completed its response to your internal review request of 23 January. We do envisage, however, providing you with a response by the end of April. We apologise for the delay.

The last response on the 17th Feb, read:
Thank you for your e mail of 14 February. We anticipate providing a response to your internal review of 23 January by Friday 31 March.If we are unable to provide a response by this date, we will let you know

The issue highlights a major problem with the Act that internal reviews are not a statuory process with a time deadline. The review process is only referenced at "Application for decision by Commissioner" in S50 2(a): (a) "that the complainant has not exhausted any complaints procedure which is provided by the public authority in conformity with the code of practice under section 45,". The S45 Code part IV states:
Authorities should set their own target times for dealing with complaints; these should be reasonable, and subject to regular review. Each public authority should publish its target times for determining complaints and information as to how successful it is with meeting those targets.
(The Code is non-statutory)

The Scottish Act in this respect states that public authorities must reply promptly and within 20 working days.

Whilst I ackowledge that complex cases such as this one may require detailed anaysis and deliberation it is not clear that this happening and the Cabinet Office would appear to be using this as a loophole to extend and extend.

See my previous posts

I also have made a request to the US state department

Records management: NHS code of practice

The NHS COP was published on the 5th April:
The Records Management: NHS Code of Practice is a guide to the required standards of practice in the management of records for those who work within or under contract to NHS organisations in England. It is based on current legal requirements and professional best practice.

It includes a Health Records Retention schedule (PDF)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Implementing Freedom of Information in Scotland
Transparency, Secrecy and the International Experience

April 13th 2006
a one-day workshop
Lower College Hall, St Andrews

Kevin Dunion
Scottish Information Commissioner

Alasdair Roberts
Director, Campbell Public Affairs Institute
The Maxwell School of Syracuse University

Mark Robinson
Information Management Co-ordinator
University of St Andrews

Tony Crook
Lecturer in Social Anthropology
University of St Andrews

Gemma John
Doctoral Researcher
University of St Andrews

Further Details
& Registration:
Gemma John
Media update

Daily Telegraph - Hoogstraten's £40m folly 'will never be finished'
"Since then a building inspector from Wealden council has produced a damning report. His findings, which were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, point to damage caused by water leakage; damp seeping into the penthouse, making the walls look like "contour maps"; and vegetation flourishing on the unfinished roof."

The Guardian - Whitehall staff surveys reveal low morale and little faith in managers
"In the Home Office and the education, environment and transport departments more than one in eight officials report bullying or harassment. The staff surveys produced by most departments in Whitehall were released by the Cabinet Office under the Freedom of Information Act."

The Guardian - Public services now have legal means to open up
"Much more government data should now be available free, after the agency charged with opening up access to public sector information had its powers extended last week."

BBC news - Ideas for web activism sought out
"A virtual people's parliament and an archive to store freedom of information requests are two ideas competing for the chance to be built on the web."

Kent Messenger - Taxpayers still funding councillors' foreign travels
"During 2005, Kent county councillors travelled to Europe and America for conferences, seminars, fact-finding missions and trips to drum up investment. The details were disclosed to the Kent Messenger Group under the Freedom of Information Act. This follows earlier revelations of councillors’ and council officials’ foreign travel."

BBC news - Nurse fights on over mast blunder
"A Freedom of Information Act investigation by the BBC News website has revealed that councils in the BBC South region have made the simple mistake 68 times." - Ukip fuels Tory loans row
"The UK Independence party (Ukip) has threatened to use powers under the Freedom of Information Act to make full details of the Conservatives' backers public."

Regional news

Edinburgh Evening news - Row over tram project details
"Objectors to the plans asked for the "benefit-to-cost ratio" of the scheme to be released under Freedom of Information laws."

IC Croydon - Cost of undercover informers kept confidential
"A request for figures made by the Croydon Advertiser, our sister paper, under the Freedom of Information Act was turned down by the Metropolitan Police Service because bosses claim agents could be put in danger."

Belfast Telegraph - Government plans a hubristic folly at Maze
"He, quite rightly, queries the Government's refusal to publish the business plan for a project that is costed at well over £100m of public money and rising. Even requests under the Freedom of Information Act have been turned down - apparently it is 'not in the public interest' to explain to the public the case for spending so much spublic money!"

Canada - 940 news - Tories backing away from key plank in proposed accountability act
"The proposed Federal Accountability Act will not include a sweeping set of reforms to Access to Information laws as promised in the Tory platform."

Technocrati tag: foia-media
Freedom of Information Statistics

Freedom of Information statistics for October to December 2005 are now available from the DCA covering all Central Depts and other centrally monitored bodies.

Executive summary
-Departments of State reported receiving just under 4,000 "non-routine" information requests during the fourth quarter of 2005 (Q4). Other monitored bodies received around 3,750 requests. Across all monitored bodies, over 7,700 requests were received, of which 90 per cent had been processed at the time of monitoring.

-The Q4 total of 7,700 requests across all monitored bodies compares to previous quarterly totals of 13,600 during the first quarter of 2005 (Q1), 8,400 during Q2 and 8,100 during Q3 (Note 8). These figures suggest that there was a marked initial peak in request volumes during the first quarter of the FoI Act's implementation.

-During Q4, 89 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), but a very small decrease from Q3 (90 per cent).

-Of all "resolvable" requests received during Q4 (i.e. requests where it was possible to make a substantive decision on whether to release the information being sought), 67 per cent were granted in full, the same as during Q3. Of the remaining Q4 requests, 10 per cent of the total were withheld in part, 16 per cent were withheld in full, and the remaining 7 per cent had not yet received a substantive response.

-Across all four quarters combined, monitored bodies had a cumulative total of 1,267 requests referred for Internal Review on the grounds that information was withheld. Of the 1,057 Internal Reviews with a known outcome at the time of monitoring, 77 per cent resulted in the request's initial handling being upheld in full.

Download the full report [PDF 332kb, 36pages]

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Act Now Information Law newsletter

The 22nd issue of the Act Now Information Law newsletter which can be viewed or downloaded from:
Latest Tribunal Decision

An important tribunal decision has just been published relating charging under the Enivornmental Information Regulations. The information tribunal has substituted the ICs decision notice with a new decision. The IC had not upheld the complaint about the charges being "reasonable" (S8(3) of the EIRs - different to the charging regime for FOIA).

Mr David Markinson v Information Commissioner 28th March 2006)

Substitute Decision Notice
41 The complaint of Mr Markinson was that the Council had not complied with Regulation 8(3) in that it had sought to charge:
(a) £6 for a copy of any planning/building control decision notices (a charge that was increased to £6.50 on 1 April 2005 and then reduced to 50p on 16 June 2005, both dates post-dating the date when Mr Markinson had lodged his complaint with the Commissioner); and
(b) 50p for each piece of all other A4 size copy documents.

42 The Commissioner s decision should stand on the following questions:
(a) The information in question fell to be considered under the Regulations; and
(b) The circumstances were such as to trigger the Commissioners duty to consider the matter and reach a decision.

43 The Tribunal has decided that the Council did not comply with its obligations under Part 2 of the Regulations in that, although the information was available for inspection at the Council s office free of charge, (in accordance with paragraph
8(2)(b) of the Regulations), each of the charges made by the Council for the provision of copies of the information, as set out in paragraph 41(a) and (b) above,
failed to satisfy the requirements of Regulation 8(3), for the reasons set out in paragraphs 33 and 34 above.

44 The actions that the Council is required to take, in the light of that decision, are as follows:
(a) The Council should reassess the charges that it makes for providing copies of environmental information for the purposes of the Regulations.
(b) In making that reassessment the Council should adopt as a guide price the sum of 10p per A4 sheet, as identified in the Good practice guidance on access to and charging for planning information published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and as recommended by the DCA.
(c) The Council should be free to exceed that guide price figure only if it can demonstrate that there is a good reason for it to do so, and in considering whether any such reason exists the Council should:
(i) take due regard of the guidance set out in the Code of Practice on the discharge of the obligations of public authorities under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and the Guidance to the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 , both published by DEFRA, to the effect that any charge should be at a level that does not exceed the cost of producing the copies;

disregard any costs, including staff costs, associated with the maintenance of the information in question or its identification or extraction from storage; and
(iii) disregard any factors beyond the number and size of sheets to be copied, in particular, the real or perceived significance of the content, or the effect that any charging structure may have on the Council s revenue or its staff workload.
(d) If the Council wishes to, and can, justify a higher charging rate, on the basis of the guidance set out above, then it may do so provided that there has been proper study, scrutiny, decision and authorisation for such a charge, and the process for arriving at the higher charge is published and available for scrutiny.

45 We direct that a copy of this decision, incorporating this substituted Decision Notice,be served on the Council and that it complete the process of re-assessment, and publishes details of the resulting charges, by no later than 2 May 2006

Also see original ICO Decision Case Ref: FER0061168
Summary: The complainant alleged that the charges for providing copies of a planning application were excessive. The Commissioner notes recent reductions in these charges and accepts that the Council has satisfied itself that its charges do not exceed a reasonable amount in accordance with Part 2, paragraph 8(3) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. The complainant has lodged an appeal.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: EIR r.8 - Complaint Not Upheld

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

New qualifications in Information Rights

The University of Dundee has established a Centre for Archive and
Information Studies (CAIS) within Archive, Records Management and Museum
Services (ARMMS). Within CAIS, a new MSc Programme in Records Management and Information Rights by Distance Learning is now available. Further details are
available online at Details

University of Northumbria's course in in Information Rights Law and Practice (in Conjunction with the Department for Constitutional Affairs) will also launch in September 2006. Details.
Jobs at the BBC

The following jobs at the BBC may be of interest to readers:

Lawyer, Regulatory Legal DepartmentBBC Legal, West London
Ref 81234
Close 24th April

Lawyer, Regulatory Legal Department
BBC Legal, West London
Ref 81314
Close 24th April Six months (maternity cover)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Public Partners

News release:

Public Partners has been restructured. I am delighted to be able to give you the link to the new site of P-PACT - Public Partners: Advice, Consultancy and Training which we hope you will bookmark and add to your favourites:

This new site has been designed to provide advice and guidance to everyone involved in Information Governance across the Public Sector. With comprehensive sections on the Law, Best Practice, Enforcement, and with the establishment of a Network across the UK and other up-to-the minute information, we feel it will provide the highest standards of support to all practitioners.

P-PACT also gives you the opportunity to access additional support through our support service, a successor to the Network for Information Professionals. FOI+ gives you access to

Network Mail - on line access to all other members of the subscription service and to the Expert Panel. We will be using this to notify you of round robin requests and of advice given relating to current issues

Benchmarking - providing much needed analysis of the decisions of both the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal to help youput your own decisions in perspective.

Helpline with 24/7 access to advice from our experts

Library services, with a regularly updated and comprehensive selection of presentations, practical scenarios, and articles for you to use.

FOI+ Specialist, Liz Cruse, who will be in regular contact with you.

Members also receive discounts for both bespoke and scheduled training as well as for consultancy.

If you wish to find out more about FOI+ go to or contact Liz Cruse on or on 0845 450 9449.
Scottish Information Commissioner's newsletter: Spring 2006

Consultations, inquiries and reports

The Commissioner’s response to the Scottish Executive consultation – FOI one year on (which closes on 31 March 2006) is available to download from our website as a pdf file (64KB).

The Scottish Parliament Finance Committee has issued a call for evidence for its Accountability and Governance Inquiry which is looking at the growth in the number of commissioners and regulators in Scotland, their accountability, cost and remits.

The Scottish Parliament’s Procedures Committee has launched its report on the Procedures Relating to Crown Appointments

The UK Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee visited the Commissioner on 20 March as part of its Inquiry into the Operation of the [UK] Freedom of Information Act: one year on. The Committee was particularly interested in the Commissioner’s experience of reviews, case management, staffing and his funding relationship with the Scottish Parliament.

The UK Parliament’s Public Administration Committee has begun an Inquiry into “the role and independence of ethics and standards watchdogs” . The Commissioner has been invited by the Committee to participate in an informal discussion on 25 April in Edinburgh.

Annual Report 2005

The Commissioner’s second annual report was laid before the Scottish Parliament on 22 February 2006. It covers the first year of full operation of FOI legislation in Scotland and provides an overview of the Commissioner’s experience of the first 12 months enforcing FOISA and the EIRs.

The Annual Report can be downloaded from our website in pdf format - please note, this is a large file and may take some time to download (2.24 MB)

Guidance on Councillors and FOI

The Commissioner decided last year in the case of Mr Shields and the Scottish Parliament (Decision 008/2005) that MSPs are not covered by the definition of The Scottish Parliament in Schedule 1 of the Act. Following discussion with local authorities to establish whether the same principle might be applied to councillors, a new FAQ has been published - "Are information requests made to councillors valid under FOISA?"

Campaign for FOI training event

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland is providing a half-day training course “Scottish Information Commissioner Decisions: what do they mean in practice?” in Glasgow on Wednesday 31 May 2006. The training will be lead by Maurice Frankel, Director of the Campaign.

Details of the training course and a booking form can be found in pdf format at this link:

Visit by the Chief Information Commissioner for India

The Commissioner welcomed a visit to his office last week by Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner, who directs the Indian Central Information Commission.

Mr Habibullah provided great insight into his own work and the challenges that he faces. The Indian Right to Information Act 2005 came into force in October of the year it was enacted and Mr Habibullah himself came into post only at the end of that month. Indian public authorities are obliged by the legislation to appoint a Public Information Officer who is responsible for meeting the authority’s obligations. PIOs are personally liable for compliance and can be fined 250 Rupees per breach of the legislation. Public authorities are required to publish their FOI request monitoring information in a similar way to the Canadian FOI legislation. There is an upfront fee of 10 Rupees for each information request.

The Central Information Commission’s website is at


We’re currently advertising 5 vacant posts:

• A new Head of Operational Management post responsible for strategic management of the office financial, staff and knowledge resources.
• Three Freedom of Information Officers to manage a varied caseload of investigations.
• A new Administrator post with special responsibility for case handling.

Application packs are available online to download.

The closing date for applications is 18 April 2006 at 12 noon.

Queensland Information Commissioner launches FOI website

The Queensland Information Commissioner has launched a website which covers the whole of the Queensland government for matters relating to FOI. This site provides guidance to applicants on how to make an FOI application and includes FAQs. The site also advises users of what other pieces of legislation they can use to access information.

The site can be accessed at

Email problems at OSIC

The Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner has been experiencing problems with its e-mail system and was unable to send or receive e-mails between Monday 27 March and Friday 31 March. The problem has now been resolved, but we are still unable to access any e-mails sent to us between those dates. If you contacted us during that period, please re-send your e-mail.

We apologise for the inconvenience this has caused and thank you for your patience if you have been waiting to hear from us. Remember that if your enquiry is urgent, you can contact us by telephone: 01334 4646410.
Article on Re-use regs

"Low-Profile Regs You Don't Want to Miss: The Re-Use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005" By Sue Broughton. Freepint newsletter No.203
Latest decision

Case Ref: FS50065663
Date: 22/03/06
Public Authority: Farndon Green Medical Centre
Summary: Following a request for information related to the proposed development of a new surgery using a private developer the complainant alleged that some information had been withheld, including minutes of meetings, the Heads of Term and requests for financial assistance held by the developer on behalf of the Medical Centre. However, the Commissioner has found that the formal minutes of meetings had not been created. Some notes containing action points were made but these were destroyed once the matter had been dealt with and so at the time of the request no such notes existed. The Commissioner considers that some information in the Heads of Term, such as the proposed rent, was exempt under section 43 although other information should be disclosed. The private developer did hold information relating to the financial assistance that was available from the associated primary care trust; however, this information concerned its own negotiations regarding rental values and was held for its own commercial purposes rather than on behalf of the Medical Centre.
Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.43(2) - Complaint Upheld (in part)
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50065663
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