Friday, February 29, 2008

FOI opens up government to scrutiny

Robert Verkaik
The Independent
29 February 2008
What sort of right-to-know laws do we want for Britain? Should they be limited to the disclosure of information already deemed fit for public consumption or should the scope of the Freedom of Information Act force public authorities to give up documents and correspondence that might embarrass or damage the reputation of public figures and the offices they hold?

..this week the tide seems to have turned in favour of those who want to see the legislation used to uncover unpalatable truths about those who govern us. Two important rulings, one by the Information Commissioner and the other by the Information Tribunal, have extended the scope of the Act and dealt a blow to those who would prefer Britain to remain a secret state.

Ministers and the Commons' authorities are now considering their options. The Commons may look to the High Court to overturn the tribunal decision.

Ministers may wish to take their battle to the Information Tribunal which has the power to overturn Mr Thomas's decision on Cabinet minutes. But that is not the end of it. The Labour architects of the Freedom of Information Act must have known there might come a time when the Government would be ordered to disclose material that it would not wish to make public during its term of office. So the Act makes provision for government intervention by allowing ministers to deploy an all-trumping veto.

When that day comes, and it hasn't happened in the first three years of the legislation, we will know the true limits of Freedom of Information in this country.
Read the full article

Thursday, February 28, 2008

ICO orders 32 local authorities to release information on pension payments

ICO press release
Date: 28 Feb 2008
In a landmark ruling under the Freedom of Information Act, the Information Commissioner has ordered 32 local authorities to disclose the amount of money paid to brokers by investment managers on behalf of employees’ pension funds. The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has ruled that there is a strong public interest in releasing the information.

In one case, Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council received a FOI request for all IMA (Investment Managers Association) disclosure tables. The tables contain a breakdown of the commission payments made by investment managers on behalf of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund. These payments are directly deducted from the pension fund.

The council refused to disclose the information citing two exemptions, confidentiality agreements and commercial sensitivity. However, the Information Commissioner decided that the public interest in disclosing the information overrides the public interest in maintaining the exemptions.
See also:

Information watchdog targets private sector - Financial Times, 28 Feb 2008

Read the decision notice

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

MPs' expenses 'must be published'

BBC News

26 February 2008
The House of Commons has been ordered to provide a more detailed breakdown of MPs' expenses, following a three-year Freedom of Information battle.

Claims made under the Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) must be published in detail, the Information Tribunal ruled.

MPs can claim up to £23,000 a year each to cover the cost of staying away from home, including food and rent payments.

Commons resources boss Andrew Walker had argued publishing more details could intrude on MPs' private lives.

But the Tribunal ruled in favour of Freedom of Information campaign Heather Brooke and two journalists - and ordered the Commons to release the information within 28 days.
ICO orders release of Cabinet minutes relating to Iraq invasion

ICO Press Release
Tuesday 26 February 2008
The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has ordered the Cabinet Office to release the minutes of Cabinet meetings where military action against Iraq was discussed. He does not believe, however, that the disclosure of these minutes will necessarily set a precedent in respect of other Cabinet minutes.

The Commissioner’s decision follows a request under the Freedom of Information Act for a copy of Cabinet minutes and records relating to two meetings held between 7 – 17 March 2003 where the Attorney General’s legal advice was considered.

The Cabinet Office refused to release the information, stating that it is exempt from disclosure because it relates to the formulation of government policy and ministerial communications.

The Information Commissioner fully recognises the Cabinet Office’s arguments against disclosure of the information in relation to the importance of the Cabinet’s ability to freely consider the most important and sensitive policy issues without inhibition. He also accepts that protecting the convention of Cabinet collective responsibility is a strong factor in favour of withholding of Cabinet minutes.

However, in the Information Commissioner’s view the public interest in disclosing the Cabinet minutes in this particular case outweighs the public interest in withholding the information. He believes that disclosure of the information would allow the public to more fully understand this particular decision of the Cabinet and considers several public interest factors to favour the disclosure of this information:

• The gravity and controversial nature of the subject matter
• Accountability of government decisions
• Transparency of decision making
• Public participation in government decisions
However, the Information Commissioner accepts the Cabinet Office’s argument that there are a number of specific references in the Cabinet minutes which, if released, would be likely to have a detrimental effect on international relations. He therefore concludes that in respect of these references the public interest in maintaining the exemptions does outweigh the public interest in disclosure.

ENDS
The Campaign for Freedom of Information has welcomed the Commissioner's decision.

Read the decision notice (Pdf)
Information Rights User Group

Minutes from the eighth Information Rights User Group meeting held on 12th December 2007 have been published by the Ministry of Justice.
Some members of the User Group raised concerns about delays caused by the use of public interest extensions by public authorities to extend the time available for responding to requests. The Ministry of Justice will be collecting statistical information for it’s next annual report on the use of the public interest extension by monitored bodies. This will be used along with specific examples that the group agreed to supply to assist officials in assessing whether there is a problem with improper use of the extension provision, the extent of the problem and how to address it.

The Ministry of Justice noted points made about the adequacy of funding to maintain current performance levels in the Information Commissioner’s Office and undertook to respond to the Commissioner on the issue by Christmas.
The impact of the UK FoI Act on records management in the public sector

UCL are advertising the following job vacancy:
Research Assistant post at UCL on an AHRC-funded project

This new and significant research project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to investigate what the impact of the UK Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 has been on records management services in public authorities. More specifically, the project will examine how well records management services prepared for and coped with the first three years of FOI implementation; what contribution records management services make to the ability of public authorities to comply with the FOI Act; how the user experience of FOI is affected by the management of records and what the implications are of FOI so far for good practice in records management. The research is led by Elizabeth Shepherd and Andrew Flinn in the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies at UCL.

Applications are invited for the position of Research Assistant. We are looking for an experienced and highly competent research assistant who will either be a qualified archivist/records manager, with an MA in archives and records management and professional experience in records or information management, or a graduate or post doctoral candidate with experience in humanities or social science research and/or knowledge of public sector governance and the access to information environment. Working as part of a collaborative team, you will undertake a variety of qualitative research techniques including semi-structured face-to-face interviews and focus groups with a range of subjects including records management experts from local authorities, senior FOI policy managers, and FOI user communities. You will also help locate and analyse existing literature, maintain a project website and be responsible for the initial analysis of data and the reporting of results. You will be encouraged to contribute fully to all aspects of the project including the analysis and dissemination of the findings. For further details of the project please see http://www.ucl.ac.uk/slais/research/icarus/foi-impact/

The post is available full-time for twelve months (1 May 2008 to 30 April 2009) on grade 6 of the UCL scale with a starting salary of £23,692 p.a. plus £2,649 p.a. London Allowance.

Please download a job pack from http://www.ucl.ac.uk/slais/research/icarus/foi-impact/. Applications (e-mail or hard copy) including a letter of application and CV, plus contact details of three referees, should be sent to Kerstin Michaels, Departmental Administrator, School of Library, Archive and Information Studies, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, k.michaels@ucl.ac.uk

Interested candidates can also contact Dr Elizabeth Shepherd (e.shepherd@ucl.ac.uk, 0207 679 2945) for more details.

The closing date for applications is: Friday 14 March 2008.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Welcome for Northern Rock freedom of information vote

Campaign for Freedom of Information
Press release: 21 February 2008

The Campaign for Freedom of Information welcomed today's vote in the House of Lords to bring Northern Rock within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. Northern Rock would have been explicitly excluded from the FOI Act under the government's nationalisation proposals published this week.

The Campaign's director Maurice Frankel said: "The government has argued that Northern Rock should be treated like private sector banks, and not be subject to freedom of information. But the fact that it is being nationalised gives it vast advantages over ordinary banks, puts it at the centre of political debate and makes an irresistible case for full public scrutiny. Publicly owned bodies like Royal Mail, which also compete with the private sector, are subject to the FOI Act - Northern Rock should be too."

The Campaign pointed out that the government has just been consulting on extending the FOI Act to private bodies with public contracts or public functions and said that made it all the more extraordinary for it to exclude a nationalised body which is fully absorbed into the public sector.

Read the full press release.
Tribunal orders disclosure of legal advice on public interest grounds

The Information Tribunal has ordered the disclosure of legal advice on public interest grounds for the first time. In Mersey Tunnel Users Association v Information Commissioner and Merseytravel (EA/2007/0052), the Tribunal found that advice by counsel to Merseytravel on the authority's powers under a Debt Administration Order, was subject to legal professional privilege but the public interest in maintaining the exemption was outweighed by the public interest in disclosure.

The Tribunal concluded:
Finally, we come to strike the balance in the particular circumstances of this case. Weighed in the round, and considering all the aspects discussed above, we are not persuaded that the public interest in maintaining the exemption is as weighty as in the other cases considered by the Tribunal; and in the opposing scales, the factors that favour disclosure are not just equally weighty, they are heavier. We find, listing just the more important factors, that considering the amounts of money involved and numbers of people affected, the passage of time, the absence of litigation, and crucially the lack of transparency in the authority’s actions and reasons, that the public interest in disclosing the information clearly outweighs the strong public interest in maintaining the exemption, which is all the stronger in this case because the opinion is still live. To quote Bellamy : “there is a strong element of public interest inbuilt into the privilege itself. At least equally strong countervailing considerations would need to be adduced to override that public interest”. In our judgement, the countervailing considerations adduced here are not equally strong; they are stronger. The opinion should be disclosed.

Read the Tribunal's decision.

FOI claims a ministerial scalp

FOI requests by the Belfast Telegraph newspaper have played a key role in the first ministerial resignation from the Northern Ireland devolved government. Ian Paisley Jnr resigned on Monday after months of controversy over his lobbying for wealthy developer Seymour Sweeney.

The paper's Investigations Correspondent, David Gordon, explained the role FOI played:
Even the latest revelations, concerning constituency office rental expenses, had their roots in an FOI request by the Belfast Telegraph. The Assembly was last week finalising an official response to this FOI query, which involved rent claims by each MLA.

Draft details were circulated to members for a final check ahead of the official release...

Eyebrows were raised at the figures for the two Paisleys - almost three times the next highest total. It is understood DUP figures made their own inquiries and discovered a Seymour Sweeney connection.

FOI has played a key role throughout the Sweeney links controversy.

MEP Jim Allister landed a major blow last month with the disclosure from the Northern Ireland Office on lobbying at the 2006 St Andrews talks.

Two of the six items on the Paisley Jnr shopping list considered by Tony Blair were linked to Mr Sweeney.

An FOI disclosure to this newspaper late last year also exposed the full extent of the MLA's lobbying on the Giant's Causeway visitor debate.

Then there was that 2003 letter to the Heritage Lottery Fund protesting about a grant refusal for the Sweeney Causeway scheme.

Written in Ian Paisley Snr's name, but apparently signed by his son, it wrongly claimed that the developer had secured the approval of world heritage body Unesco.

This letter was made public through a Belfast Telegraph FOI request. Ian Paisley Snr angrily attacked the use of the Act by "lazy journalists" .

His thoughts on the legislation are unlikely to have mellowed since then.
See 'Role of FOI legislation in Minister's downfall' and 'Latest link to Sweeney too much for DUP'

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Recent lecture by Information Commissioner

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, gave a lecture to the Centre for Regulated Industries on 9 January 2008:
In a wide-ranging speech the Information Commissioner spoke about his role, the functions of his office and some of the issues he is currently facing. He went on to discuss the independent nature of his position and how it is that one commissioner can cover both data protection and freedom of information.
The lecture notes are on the ICO's website.

Monday, February 18, 2008

FCO releases draft dossier

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has complied with a ruling from the Information Tribunal to release a draft version of the Iraq dossier written by John Williams, the FCO's former director of communications. The document has been published on the FCO's disclosure log and a written ministerial statement is due to be made to Parliament on Monday.

According to the Observer:
"The draft is understood not to contain the infamous claim that Saddam Hussein could launch a strike with 'weapons of mass destruction' within 45 minutes, a claim that was central to the final 'dodgy dossier'.

Yesterday Williams attacked the decision to withhold the document for so long. 'If the government withholds a piece of paper, it immediately makes it significant; it almost doesn't matter what it says,' he argued. 'That's what I said at the time: why are we withholding it?'"
The disclosure is a significant victory for Chris Ames, who first requested its release in 2005.

See also -

John Williams: Dodgy judgements, Comment is Free, The Guardian

Secret draft of Iraq dossier to be revealed, The Observer

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Court quashes information ruling

BBC News Scotland
8 Feb 2008
The Court of Session has backed a council's refusal to comply with a Freedom of Information request.

Dumfries and Galloway Council had appealed against a decision by Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion ordering it to release the details.

The request centred on complaints to trading standards about a particular company over a period of 10 years.

The council said the Enterprise Act prohibited disclosure and its appeal has been ruled to be successful.
ICO rules against the BBC withholding information

ICO Press Release
12 February 2008
The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has ordered the BBC to disclose the name of the highest earner at BBC Northern Ireland and their pay band under the Freedom of Information Act. However, the Information Commissioner agreed with the BBC that it would be unreasonable to disclose the exact salary.

The complainant also requested information on the payments made to several named television presenters and the costs of producing John Daly’s TV show. The BBC refused to disclose the information on the basis it was not a public authority with regard to the requests for information about talent costs and in-house production costs.

The Information Commissioner has ruled that the information was not held for the dominant purposes of journalism, art or literature and therefore falls within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. However, the Information Commissioner concluded that the information relating to payments of presenters is exempt because it is personal information and release would breach the Data Protection Act. The Commissioner also found that the information relating to programme costs is exempt from disclosure as its release may prejudice the BBC’s commercial interests.


Read the decision notice (Pdf)
Mersey Care NHS Trust right not to release reports into five murders

ICO Press Release
8 February 2008
The Information Commissioner has ruled that the Mersey Care NHS Trust was right not to disclose five critical incident reports into five separate murders carried out by patients of the Trust. The Information Commissioner’s Office agreed with the Trust’s decision that the reports contain personal information and that their release under the freedom of information would breach the Data Protection Act 1998.

Mersey Care NHS Trust refused to release the reports on the grounds that they not only contained personal information of the Mersey Care patients referred to in the reports, including reference to their medical condition and treatment, but also contained the personal data of other individuals involved in their care, including their families. The Trust argued that the reports are exempt from disclosure because releasing this information would not have been expected by those who contributed to the internal inquiries and would be likely to cause damage or distress to the families of those involved.

The full decision notice can be viewed at
http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/decisionnotices/2008/fs_50130130.pdf

ENDS

Friday, February 08, 2008

WMD dossier decision 'very soon', Brown says

Chris Ames
New Statesman
6 Feb 2008
UK PM Gordon Brown says a decision on whether to release a secret draft of the Iraq WMD dossier will be made soon.

Gordon Brown has told MPs the government will decide “very soon” whether to release the secret draft of the Iraq wmd dossier written by Foreign Office (FCO) spin doctor John Williams.

The Information Tribunal ruled two weeks ago that the document, which I requested in February 2005, should be released under the Freedom of Information Act.

At Prime Minister’s Questions this lunchtime, Tory MP John Baron asked Brown whether he would “now immediately release the document, and if not, why not?” Brown replied that “a decision will be announced very soon.”

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Media update

Secrets of Blair briefing on NPfIT to be surrendered - Computer Weekly 4/2/08
"The government is taking the unprecedented step of releasing papers on how policy decisions were taken at Downing Street before the launch of the NHS systems modernisation project - the world's largest civil IT-based scheme...In 2005, days after the Freedom of Information Act came into force, Computer Weekly formally applied for details of an IT seminar held at Downing Street in February 2002, chaired by the then prime minister, Tony Blair. Decisions at the seminar led to the launch of what became the £12.4bn National Programme for IT in the NHS. The government formally rejected Computer Weekly's request three times. The case was due to come before the Information Tribunal on 11 February, but last week the government's lawyers unexpectedly withdrew from the appeal. The Cabinet Office will now release the information."

Brown refuses to reveal contacts with Murdoch - Independent 4/2/08
"Gordon Brown has been accused of hypocrisy after refusing to reveal his contacts with the media magnate Rupert Murdoch, despite promising a more open approach to freedom of information... Mr Brown released details of Mr Blair's contacts with Mr Murdoch only days after becoming Prime Minister last June. But he is remaining coy about his own discussions with him. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request from The Independent asked for "details of any meetings" between Mr Murdoch and the Prime Minister. Nicholas Howard, a Downing Street official, replied to say that "we do not hold any minutes of any meetings or other interactions" between the two men. It has emerged that the two men met at Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence, on the weekend of 6-7 October, when Mr Brown decided not to call a November election."

NHS hospitals pay more than £120 an hour for agency nurses* - Times 4/2/08
"NHS hospitals have paid more than £120 an hour for agency workers to fill staffing gaps during the past year, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act...The Conservatives asked NHS trusts to reveal the top hourly rates that each had paid for agency staff during the previous 12 months. The highest figures also included £121.10 an hour for a nurse at Chesterfield and Royal Hospital NHS Trust and £111.96 for a nurse at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust. The highest hourly rate for a non-clinical worker was £119 for a turnaround director at Coventry Teaching Primary Care Trust, followed by £110 for financial staff at Heatherwood and Wrexham Park Hospitals NHS Trust and £106.66 for a director of healthcare and procurement at Havering PCT."

* See also 'NHS £120 -an-hour report unfounded' BBC 4/2/08
"A hospital trust that was reported to have paid over £120 an hour for agency workers to cover for gaps in staffing has said it provided incorrect figures. The true amount paid to agency staff by Royal Berkshire trust was £20.23 an hour, not the reported £121.59"

How the law lost £600,000 in kit including... - Telegraph 4/2/08
"A sniffer dog snatched from under the noses of its handlers is among thousands of items of police equipment that has been lost or stolen. Worth well over £700,000, the kit includes three dogs, 27 motor vehicles, 50 computers, 104 radio handsets, 149 satellite navigation systems and 189 mobile phones. Other missing items include 109 batons, 187 pairs of handcuffs, 113 torches and 141 police caps and helmets. The list, gained under the Freedom of Information Act, prompted charges of carelessness, but police insisted every case had been investigated."

Taking the mick - Scotland on Sunday 3/2/08
"It was never going to be a meeting of minds, but after years of wrangling, Heather Brooke believes that she is about to celebrate a famous victory over Michael Martin, the Speaker of the House of Commons...Martin, as Speaker, is the man Brooke blames for blocking this and many other requests for information about how MPs spend public money...This week, the battle comes to a head: an Information Tribunal will decide whether the House of Commons' authorities should be forced to provide details of how MPs spend an annual allowance of up to £22,110 for living away from their main home."

Ministers accused of conniving with Eon - FT 1/2/08
"Ministers were on Thursday night accused of conniving with the energy industry, after e-mails revealed a supplier appearing to dictate the terms on which it expected the government to approve a controversial coal-fired power station. The e-mail trail, obtained by Greenpeace, the environmental pressure group, using the Freedom of Information Act is politically embarrassing for John Hutton, the business secretary."

Government blocks access to secret military papers on Diego Garcia - Independent 1/2/08
"MPs and human rights group have accused ministers of a cover-up over government knowledge of rendition flights and the use of British military bases to hold suspects after the United States launched its war on terror more than six years ago. Now ministers have blocked an attempt by an influential parliamentary committee to secure the release of secret military papers which they believe will reveal whether the British island territory of Diego Garcia was used as a detention centre for rendition prisoners. MPs from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition used powers under the Freedom of Information Act to request minutes of US/UK political military talks held in a Washington in September last year. But the Government has refused to release the papers claiming that to do so "would prejudice the defence" of territory by "exposing plans to counter possible terrorist attacks". They also say it could damage diplomatic relations between Britain and America."

How MSPs are made to account for every penny - Independent 31/1/08
"Members of the Scottish Parliament publish details of their expenses down to the last bus ticket. Freedom of information laws have meant that all claims by MSPs, no matter how small, have been published since 2006. Whereas Westminster MPs can claim up to £250 without a receipt, their counterparts at Holyrood must provide bills for every penny they claim. The former Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie stood down after wrongly claiming taxi fares. Only claims for travelling by car are exempt from the rules, which allow voters to scrutinise their elected representatives' expenses in minute detail."

Labour is accused of doing a u-turn over mixed sex wards - Western Daily Press 30/1/08
"Patients are being let down by a government U-turn on mixed-sex wards in hospitals, the Tories claimed last night. They said Health Minister Lord Darzi had reneged on Labour's 1997 manifesto promise to "work towards the elimination of mixed-sex wards". Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the Conservatives had requested information on mixed-sex wards under the Freedom of Information Act and 44 per cent of acute and mental health trusts had responded. The Tories named 35 NHS trusts that still have fully mixed wards, including Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Weston Area Health NHS Trust, Gloucestershire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust."

REGIONAL

Licensed for a gun - at 10 - thisisdorset.co.uk 1/2/08
"Children as young as 10 have been issued with shotgun licences by Dorset Police.
More than 100 licences for guns have been issued to young people under 18 in the last two years. These include shotgun licences to a 10-year-old, an 11-year-old, two 12-year-olds and six 13-year-olds. Licences for rifles have been issued to two 15-year-olds, two 16-year-olds and ten 17-year-olds. In total over the last three years 89 licences for shotguns and 14 firearm licences for rifles have been issued to people under the voting age. The Daily Echo obtained these figures under the Freedom of Information Act but the police refused to say where in the county the licences were issued."

50p - how little goes into each meal for hospital patients - thisisbristol.co.uk 30/1/08
"Patients staying at hospitals in Bristol are being fed using ingredients costing as little as 50p per meal, the Evening Post has learned. Figures for the last financial year obtained using the Freedom of Information Act show the average cost of ingredients for two- course meals at Frenchay and Southmead hospitals was 50p. School meals in Bristol during the same period were prepared on a budget of 80p each.And even prisoners have at least 60p spent on each meal. When energy and staff costs are added, hospital trusts in the area pay an average of £1.56 to £2.07 per meal."

Rats firms supplied 150 sites - thisissouthwales.co.uk 29/1/08
"A Rat-infested warehouse supplied food to children and the elderly at more than 150 establishments across Carmarthenshire, it has been revealed.The county council was forced to release a list of schools, care homes and leisure facilities supplied by Pembrokeshire-based Skelfayre after a Post reporter requested details under the Freedom of Information Act. Health inspectors found dead rats, maggots and rat faeces in or among the company's supplies last year. Earlier this month, its directors appeared in court to face food hygiene charges."

Foreign arrests soar - Your Local Guardian
"The number of foreign nationals being arrested by the Met Police has risen by more than 60 per cent in four years, according to figures released under Freedom of Information laws. According to the figures, 34,956 non-UK residents were arrested by the Met in the first nine months of last year. That's a 63 per cent rise on the 21,398 arrested in 2003. The Met came fifth in the table of growth in foreign arrests numbers for forces across England and Wales. According to the figures released to Channel 4, the greatest rise was in Warwickshire, where arrests rose by more than 2,000 per cent from 21 in 2003 to 447 in 2007."

SCOTLAND

Old navy loos halt the new Forth crossing - Sunday Herald
"The Government's controversial £4 billion plan to build another road bridge across the Firth of Forth is about to run into an unexpected hitch: a historic toilet. A first world war latrine at Port Edgar in South Queensferry, along with a cell block, an air-raid shelter and naval barracks, have all been put under legal protection by the government's guardian of ancient monuments, Historic Scotland. But the buildings are directly in the way of the proposed new bridge. The Sunday Herald can also reveal that another government agency, Transport Scotland, secretly tried to prevent the buildings from being protected to clear the path for the new bridge - a move that has been attacked as "inappropriate meddling" by environmentalists."

Spin doctors 'muzzled' green watchdog - Sunday Herald
"Scotland's green watchdog held back an attack on polluting farmers after it consulted government spin doctors. According to internal documents obtained by the Sunday Herald, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) completely rewrote a draft news release after circulating it to ministerial media officials. One accusation - that farmers' leaders were being "misleading" - was left out in favour of comments about the key role of agriculture in protecting the environment...Emails disclosing communications with the former Scottish Executive were released by Sepa last week after an investigation by the information commissioner, Kevin Dunion. The Sunday Herald requested the documents under Freedom of Information laws in August 2006."

Friday, February 01, 2008

BUAV decision
The Information Tribunal's decision in the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection's appeal (see post below) in relation to information about animal experimentation licences has now been published. In the decision, the Tribunal makes the following comments about delay by the Home Office and the Information Commissioner's Office:
This decision is being issued approximately three years after the date of the original request for information on which it is based...The Tribunal’s own decision to deal with the Appeal in two separate hearings has unfortunately contributed to the overall delay in reaching a conclusion but it is extremely unfortunate that the process for dealing with the request within the Home Office took eight weeks, the internal review of that refusal a further five months and the Information Commissioner’s investigation of the BUAV’s complaint a further twenty one months. Even allowing for the difficulties which the Information Commissioner’s office faced during the early months of the operation of the FOIA we have to record our disappointment that the first letter from the Information Commissioner to the Home Office notifying it that a complaint had been received was not sent until almost a year after the complaint had been submitted, and his detailed investigation did not begin until a further 4 months had expired.
Read the full decision.