Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ministry of Defence criticised for freedom of information handling

The Information Commissioner's Office has issued the Ministry of Defence with a practice recommendation ordering it to improve its handling of internal reviews and ensure its standard target for completing internal reviews conforms to the Commissioner's guidance. The guidance states that reviews should normally be completed within 20 working days and in no case should the time taken exceed 40 working days.

The practice recommendation states:
Having viewed the available evidence, the Commissioner was concerned that the MOD was failing to conduct reviews promptly and that in so doing was failing to adhere to his published guidance in this respect.
In addition to his concerns that the MOD was failing to conform to the Code and to his guidance, the Commissioner also found that the standard target for internal review completion set in the MOD’s procedure and in correspondence it sent to requesters was 40 working days. It appeared to the Commissioner, therefore, that non-conformity to his recommendations was built into the MOD’s review procedure.

In October 2008...the Commissioner, via his FOI Good Practice and Enforcement Team, wrote to the MOD and informally sought assurances that its internal review procedure would be amended to reflect his recommendations.

The MOD provided the Commissioner with statistics regarding the timeliness of its reviews. It acknowledged that its performance required improvement and gave assurances in this regard. The MOD declined to make the recommended changes to its internal review procedure, despite being advised that failure to do so would increase the likelihood that a practice recommendation would be issued, particularly if further complaints regarding this issue were received.

The MOD’s failure to follow the Commissioner’s informal recommendations and the evidence of its continuing poor performance has led to the issuing of this practice recommendation
ICO press release here.
The practice recommendation is here.

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