Thursday, July 06, 2006

A Robust Approach to FOI Complaint Cases

I've just picked up that in May the Information Commissioner's Office published a document entitled "A Robust Approach to FOI Complaint Cases" that illustrated an important change in the way cases will be handled and decision notices issued. Most of what is suggested seems to make sense in light of high volume of complaints received and the backlog. I had previously commented about the high number of decisions issued in 2005 that were merely procedural that appeared to be taking precedence over more substantive decisions based around use of exemptions in the Act.

The main point of the paper is:

In essence, our new approach is not to take up, or continue with, any FoI or EIR case where no useful purpose would be served if we were to proceed to an adverse Decision Notice. Such cases will be closed, or resolved in other ways if they appear to raise enforcement or similar issues.

The paper sets out an approach is well balanced and won't I believe "let public authorities off the hook" as its does clearly set out the position as to when the ICO will still use decision notices when for example a public authority has deliberately set out to delat a reponse to an applicant.

The ICO also lay down the gauntlet to those who wish to challenge a case closure:

If any complainant tries to insist that we should proceed, we should not enter lengthy correspondence. Some such cases many need to be reviewed within our complaints procedure. Others should be advised that they can challenge the Commissioner by seeking a Judicial Review of the ruling through the courts. (It may indeed be very helpful to have such a case in due course).

The paper also indicates that the ICO may start making greater use of section 48
Practice Recommendations, or section 52 Enforcement Notices rather than decision notices.

It may take until the end of the year before we can see what sort of effect this may have on both the backlog and overall experience of the compaints procedure.

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