Thursday, November 15, 2007

PSNI investigated for FOI offence

ICO press release 15 November 2007:
"While considering a complaint under the Freedom of Information Act, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has investigated whether the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) deliberately concealed information with intent to prevent disclosure. It is a criminal offence under the Act to shred or conceal information that has been requested. The ICO launched a criminal investigation and interviewed a PSNI member of staff under caution.

This case stems from police asking a man to send his firearms licence to the local station for scrutiny. The licence was returned to the man with a number of additional conditions and the man decided to appeal. To assist his case he made a FOI request to the PSNI for policy documents about shotgun licensing. When the PSNI refused to disclose the requested information, the man complained to the ICO. He explained that, in his view, the PSNI had sought to withhold some of the requested information from him in the knowledge that it would assist his appeal about his firearms licence.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is under no doubt that the PSNI wrongly withheld information from the person making the FOI request and in a 15 page ruling the Information Commissioner expressed his concern at the PSNI’s failure to adequately handle the request.

Although there was insufficient evidence to mount a prosecution in this case, ICO staff met with the PSNI to identify the systemic breaches of the Act which the investigation into this complaint identified. This meeting was requested by the PSNI and, as a result of the issues raised in this case, the police have commenced an internal review of their FOI procedures.

The ICO’s decision, published at, also outlines that the PSNI failed to respond to the complainant’s request within the specified time limit, did not conduct an adequate public interest test and omitted to carry out an internal review of the case.

The PSNI did release some of the requested information, but the Information Commissioner has ordered the identities of more senior staff contained in policy documents, such as Inspector, Chief Inspector and Chief Superintendent, to be disclosed."
Read the full decision.

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