Monday, December 21, 2009

Information Commissioner pledges 'fierce' approach to 'slowcoach' public officials

Daily Telegraph
20 Dec 2009
Mr Graham said he would take a "fierce" approach to overly-secretive authorities. He warned that some public bodies were still "dragging their feet" in complying with the Freedom of Information Act, and said that even Cabinet minutes should not routinely have their release blocked.

In a recent unpublicised case, Mr Graham broke new ground when he threatened a public body, the London Development Agency, with contempt of court proceedings for failing to disclose information under an FOI request. "This will send a shock-wave through the system," he said.

In his first newspaper interview, to mark his first six months in the job, Mr Graham told The Sunday Telegraph: "Shining the spotlight of publicity across a public service is how you find out where money is being wasted."
"I think [in the past} the Information Commissioner's Office [ICO] has not been alert enough and fierce enough with public authorities that do not comply with their requirements under the Freedom of Information [FOI] Act," he said.

"After five years, public authorities should be able to do better. From now on, we will be a rather tougher partner. We will insist on adequate responses within the time limits. I will be up for issuing what are known as 'information notices' [which compel public authorities to supply information to the ICO or they will have committed a criminal offence]. We have not really done this so far but we will from now on."

The Information Commissioner has also sent a firm message to Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, that he should not routinely veto the release of Cabinet minutes without good cause. This followed Mr Straw's decisions to veto the release of documents relating to a devolution issue from 1997. "The point is that the [FOI] act does not say that all Cabinet papers should be vetoed. The veto is there only for exceptional circumstances," Mr Graham said.
Full Telegraph article here.


Ganesh Sittampalam said...

Did he really specifically threaten the LDA with contempt of court proceedings? The only DN on the ICO's site ( just has the standard boilerplate that failure to comply can be treated as contempt - but that's on every DN.

Katherine Gundersen said...


Thanks for the comment. I wondered this myself.

Paragraph 15 of FS50222273 states that the Commissioner stressed that if the LDA wasn't prepared to disclose the info, it should provide full arguments in support of an exception by 29 Oct 2009.

It could be that this is what the Commissioner was referring to. Or perhaps there is another decision notice involving the LDA waiting in the wings.