Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Friends of the Earth Press release

In a remarkable move the Information Commissioner has been forced to issue the first ever “Decision Notice” against himself for failure to comply with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act - which he is meant to oversee.

The Decision Notice was issued following a complaint by Friends of the Earth's Rights & Justice Centre about the Commissioner's handling of a request for information from his own office.

The Friends of the Earth Rights & Justice Centre provides free legal advice and representation to members of the public, community groups and other NGOs.

Phil Michaels, Friends of the Earth's Head of Legal said:

"This case illustrates the increasingly shambolic state of the Information Commissioner's Office and the need for improved staff training on implementing the very the Act which they are suppose to oversee. The Commission is meant to protect our rights of access to information and ensure that the legislation is properly implemented by public authorities. This case clearly shows the ICO does not comply with its own obligations under the legislation or the Code of Practice.

Its failure in cases such as this makes it increasingly difficult for it to carry out its enforcement function with any credibility. In addition, the basis on which the ICO are refusing to release the requested letters is highly questionable and we will be taking it to the Information Tribunal. It is time for the ICO to get its house in order."


Last December Friends of the Earth asked Information Commissioner's Office (the ICO) for copies of specific letters from the Department of Trade and Industry to the ICO. Under the Freedom of Information act any public authority asked for information has a legal obligation to either provide the information or to set out clear reasons for refusing the information by referencing to the relevant exceptions in the Freedom of Information Act. The ICO failed to recognise the request as a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act (and so would have been able to give a reason for refusing the request) but nonetheless refused to provide the information.

Friends of the Earth immediately asked for an internal review of the decision not to provide the information. The ICO promised to do this by 16 February but only replied in the middle of April without any explanation for the delay. The ICO again refused to provide the information (this time on a new basis).

Friends of the Earth then made a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner in his enforcement role about the conduct of his own office as a public authority.

The Information Commissioner's Decision Notice found that his office's handling of the request for information was in breach of both the requirements of the freedom of information legislation and the Secretary of State's Code of Practice on the discharge of public authorities' functions under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

However, the Information Commissioner still refuses to provide copies of the letters requested. Friends of the Earth intends to take the matter to the Information Tribunal.

The Information Commissioner's Office is the UK's independent public body set up to promote access to official information and to protect personal information. For more information see

No sign of the decision on the ICO site yet, will comment once I've seen the full story - Steve

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