Friday, November 30, 2012

Media Update - 16th - 30th November 2012

Attacks on Norfolk prison staff revealed - BBC - 30.11.12
A prison officer was scalded on the face when a kettle of boiling water was thrown at him by an inmate at a Norfolk jail. This was one of 21 staff injury assault reports at Norfolk prisions between January 2011 and October 2012, a Freedom of Information request found.

Redacted, the 425-page FOI response with every page blacked out - The Telegraph - 29.11.12
Council officials have apologised after staff produced a 425-page Freedom of Information response with every page blacked out. The document was put together by staff at Brentwood Council in Essex after they received questions about a multi-million pound deal to build a cinema.

Almost 100 children go missing from Crawley care homes in 24 months - This is Sussex - 29.11.12
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal 98 children disappeared while staying at care homes in Crawley between January 2010 and May 31 this year. Though all the children are believed to have been found safe, concerns have been raised at the potential risks to which they would have been exposed.

Nuclear lobbyists wined and dined senior civil servant, documents show - The Guardian - 28.11.12
Senior civil servants responsible for ensuring the building of the UK's new fleet of nuclear power stations received hospitality from industry representatives at some of London's most luxurious restaurants, hotels and private members' clubs.

Scottish ministers drop royal secrecy plan - BBC - 27.11.12
The Scottish government has dropped contentious plans to keep all communications between ministers and senior Royal Family members a secret. Ministers said the move would bring Scotland into line with the rest of the Uk, but changed their minds in light of concern over the proposals.

Patient killed in oxygen explosion as a second dies in broken lift: Damning dossier reveals NHS failings that caused death - Mail Online - 26.11.12
A shocking list of serious errors at NHS hospitals in Scotland has come to light, following a Freedom of Information request.

Domestic violence accounts for 10% of emergency calls, data shows - The Guardian - 24.11.12
One in 10 emergency calls to police are categorised as domestic violence related, rising in some areas to a fifth of all 999 alerts. The figures, obtained following a freedom of information requests, have prompted fresh demands for a long-term strategy to tackle Britain's "hidden crime."

Market Rasen's seriously ill suffer long waits for help from NHS - Market Rasen Mail - 24.11.12
A Freedom of Information request submitted to East Midlands Ambulance Service revealed 148 people within a 12 mile radius of Market Rasen have had to wait more than half an hour for an ambulance in the past two years - even though they had life threatening conditions.

West Midlands Police officer shot fellow cop in murder investigation - Birmingham Mail - 24.11.12
A member of the highly-trained West Midlands firearms unit accidentally wounded a colleague when his gun went off during a murder raid. The incident was one of four occasions when officers mistakenly fired their weapons in the last two years. The most shocking case - revealed by a Freedom of Information request - happened during a joint operation with Thames Valley Police, who were investigating a murder.

Crowdsourcing improvements to the Freedom of Information Act - The Guardian - 24.11.12
The government has launched an online consultation inviting feedback on the draft code of practice for authorities to follow on the enhanced the right to data under the Freedom of Information Act, which will be brought into force next year.

Three Rivers District Council pay £9m for botched William Penn Leisure Centre redevelopment - Watford Observer - 23.11.12
The bungled construction of a leisure centre has been laid bare in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Campaigner: we could save lives with 20 mph limit - Suffolk Free Press - 23.11.12
A campaigner in Suffolk is urging council bosses to review its speed limits in towns and villages throughout the county, after a Freedom of Information request revealed that almost half of the 326 people killed or seriously injured on Suffolk's roads last year were in 30mph zones.

NHS cuts back - but not on £500,000 junkets bill - Express - 22.11.12
Health chiefs in Scotland have been criticised for spending more than £500,000 on foreign junkets, at time when savings need to be made. Employees enjoyed taxpayer-funded trips to Miami, Cape Town, Sydney and Kuala Lumpur for courses and conferences, according to details released under Freedom of Information laws.

UKBA alerted over suspected sham civil partnerships - BBC - 22.11.12
Since 2010 registrars have contacted immigration authorities on 49 occasions with suspicions relating to same-sex ceremonies involving foreign nationals, according to figures released following a Freedom of Information Act request.

New code of practice to minimise privacy risks in anonymised data - The Guardian - 21.11.12
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has announced a new data protection code of practice, which advises on how to protect the privacy rights of individuals while dealing with large and complex databases. With the increased use of such databases, especially those containing data on members of the public, comes a heightened risk of breaching the individual's right to privacy, even when such data is anonymised.

The ICO's announcement sets out best practice in ensuring anonymised data lives up to its name, ensuring that attempts to identify an individual from a public data-set will prove fruitless.

The code focuses on ensuring that new forms and quantities of data are managed within the legal framework of the Data Protection Act (DPA). In addition to the initial anonymisation process, those holding such data must consider the likelihood of re-identification, the process by which someone in possession of one data-set could combine it with one or more other sources of data to establish an individual's identity. This is of particular concern for organisations dealing with Freedom of Information Act requests, since such an organisation must decide whether the release of its data would breach the DPA.

The full code is available for reading here

Five wind farm applications a day under the SNP - The Telegraph - 21.11.12
Figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives under the Freedom of Information Act show 5,528 planning applications for wind turbines have been made since May 2007, an average of five per day since Alex Salmond came to power.

SNP criticised over freedom of information attack - BBC - 20.11.12
The SNP has attacked an unnamed individual who submitted a series of freedom of information requests. The party accused the person of wasting public money after making 85 freedom of information requests, at a cost of more than £23,000. In response opposition parties said ministers were in no position to criticise others after having spent £12,000 of taxpayers money in legal expenses to prevent having to reveal whether it had or had not commissioned advice on Scotland's future EU membership.

Hampshire Police spend £600k on empty Alpha Park office - BBC - 20.11.12
More than £600,000 has been spent by Hampshire Police on a building which has stood empty for four years, a Freedom of Information request by the BBC has revealed. The force bought Alpha Park for £9.2m in 2008 and have spent an extra £638,379 keeping the building running since then.

Lights switched off overnight on five miles of M54 - Shropshire Star - 20.11.12
Lights have been switched off or dimmed on more than 121 miles of motorway, including on a five mile stretch of the M54, according to a response to a Freedom of Information request by drivers' group the AA. The Highways Agency, which manages motorways, stressed that safety had not been compromised.

Hundreds of paedophiles reoffend while bing monitored - The Telegraph - 20.11.12
Among those convicted of sex crimes against children, 941 have reoffended since they were subject to registration requirements, according to figures obtained under freedom of information laws by NSPCC. Jon Brown, of the children's charity, said, "Reoffending rates for sex offenders have risen in recent years, but until now we did not know how many of these involved the sexual abuse of children. From now on, we want a separate tab kept on the number of child sex offenders in this country and how many go on to abuse again." He said better information about paedophiles and reoffending rates would help protect children from abuse.

Identities of MPs' landlords and agents disclosed despite security concerns - The Guardian - 19.11.12
Records containing the identities of many MPs' landlords have been published under the Freedom of Information Act, despite claims by some, including John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, that the move could jeopardise the security of those involved. The list of landlords and agents of 320 MPs who claimed rental expenses last month was released by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which said it had withheld some details where an MP or landlord had shown that the information could lead to their address being identified.

See also: 

MPs were warned in advance of publication - The Times - 20.11.12
A group of 51 MPs succeeded in keeping their landlords' names secret after arguing that publication could pose a security risk. Among those who won the right for their landlord's name to be redacted were Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, John Denham, a former labour minister, and Nadine Dorries, the Tory MP currently appearing on a television reality show. It transpired that MPs were given several weeks notice that their landlords' details would be published, giving them time to terminate any embarrassing arrangements.

No arrests in 85% of South Yorskshire fuel thefts - BBC - 19.11.12
Figures show 85% of fuel thefts from petrol stations in South Yorshire remain unsolved. Action was taken against offenders in just 1,458 of 10,027 cases between 2007 and 2011. The figures were released by police after the BBC made a Freedom of Information request.

MP calles for tighter controls on Tasers - Cambridge News - 19.11.12
Cambridge MP Julian Huppert has called for stricter controls on Tasers after figures obtained under freedom of information request reveal Cambridgeshire police shot 34 suspects in the chest with the weapons.

SNP accused of cover-up over funding for Sick Kids hospital - Edinburgh Evening News - 19.11.12
Finance arrangements for Edinburgh's new Sick Kids hospital obscure the true cost to NHS, it has been claimed. Although the business case for the project has been published under Freedom of Information powers, all the key figures have been redacted, leading one MSP to claim the public were being kept in the dark on whether the SNP's chosen funding method, using private finance, was best value for money. Private finance initiative expert, Mark Hellowell, a lecturer at Edinburgh University, said ministers were refusing to release the business case to try to hide what he claimed was the failure to deliver cheaper schemes.

Rise in number of teachers off work with stress - The York Press - 19.11.12
The number of teachers off work with stress in York and North Yorkshire has risen sharply in the past five years, according to figures released by City of York Council under the Freedom of Information Act.

Metal theft rises on West Midlands motorways - BBC - 19.11.12
Nearly 150 metal theft incidents happened on West Midlands motorways in a year, the Highways Agency said. There were 149 incidents in the region in 2011-12, compared with seven in the previous year, a BBC Inside Out Freedom of Information request revealed.

Internet porn and the rape suspects aged TEN: new fear for young after 24 police forces arrest under-13's for sex crimes in a year - Mail Online - 18.11.12
Figures obtained by the Daily Mail under a freedom of information request reveal that 24 police forces arrested children as young as ten for suspected rape in the past year while seven detained at least one ten year old. The figures are said to highlight growing concern over the influence of internet pornography on impressionable young minds.

Spanish ships have entered Gibraltar waters 178 times in last year - The Telegraph - 18.11.12
Spanish state vessels illegally entered the disputed waters around Gibraltar 178 times in the last year. Of the 42 formal written complaints to the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 2008, half were submitted in the last 12 months. Figures released following Freedom of Information requests by the Press Association show the number of unlawful incursions into British Gibraltar waters in the year to end of October 2012 was far higher than in previous years.

Children held in police cells under Mental Health Act - BBC - 18.11.12
Children as young as 11 were held in police cells in England and Wales in 2011 because police officers thought they were mentally ill. There were 347 such detentions, some for more than 24 hours. The Mental Health Act allows police to take anyone they suspect of being mentally ill in "need of care or control" to a safe place for assessment. Children detained by police had not necessarily committed any crimes. The Department for Health said it was developing better procedures to ensure young people get appropriate care. The Association of Chief Police Officers says, in some parts of the UK, cells are the only option.

Interviewed about this disclosure on The World This Weekend the health minister, Norman Lamb twice said he was grateful that this issue had been brought to his attention. Listen to the interview here (starts 16 mins in).

Creative Scotland comes clean of £300k funding for film flop - Herald Scotland - 18.11.12
National arts agency, Creative Scotland, has been forced to accept it made a mistake in funding the film Love Bite, which flopped at the box office. The agency had initially tried to blame its predecessor, Scottish Screen, by claiming that investment was committed prior to the establishment of Creative Scotland. However, a freedom of information request revealed this to be untrue.

Number of children missing in London up by a third - London Evening Standard - 16.11.12
The number of children going missing in London has shot up by more than one third in three years, according to statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Revealed: How much you forked out for high-paid council chief's rail, taxi and hotel bills - Boston Standard - 16.11.12
The man hired as financial troubleshooter by Boston Borough Council claimed more than £16,000 in rail, taxi and hotel expenses in a year.

Footpaths are in danger due to cutbacks - Birmingham Post - 16.11.12
The Ramblers Association has launched a campaign after research based on freedom of information requests identified cuts to councils to rights-of-way departments. The Association fears that such departments may be seen as easy targets for cuts because the public may not notice funding has been withdrawn for some years.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

FOI to remain 'requester-blind', charges for requests rejected

The Local Government minister, Brandon Lewis, has confirmed that the Government has no plans to change the 'requester-blind' principle on which the Freedom of Information Act is based and has rejected calls for charges to be introduced for making requests. 
Sir Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if he will make it his policy that local authorities should either refuse or levy a charge on applications under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 which seek to extract information on planning and other matters for commercial purposes; and if he will make a statement.

Brandon Lewis: Local authorities are public bodies in their own right under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and the Department does not interfere with local authorities carrying out their obligations under this legislation. The legislation is 'requester-blind', and there are no plans to change this. It would therefore not be appropriate or practical to charge some requesters and not others.

The Freedom of Information Act already contains a suitable charging routine and local authorities must abide by this. The recent scrutiny of the Act by the Justice Select Committee considered the charging regime in some detail, and did not recommend any changes. In particular it recommended maintaining the principle of requester blindness and that public authorities should not be given the power to charge some requesters and not others.

Ministers have previously received representations from local authorities asking for powers to introduce new charges for freedom of information requests; we have rejected such an approach. If town halls want to reduce the amount they spend on responding to freedom of information requests, they should consider making the information freely available in the first place.

Indeed, this Government's Open Data agenda seeks to open up public sector information rather than restrict it. The local government transparency code issued by my Department calls for councils to publish a wide range of data in an open and standardised format, for re-use and re-publication by anyone: from individuals, to voluntary sector to commercial organisations. Open and standardised formats allow creative use of data. For example, OpenlyLocal is seeking to build an open national database of planning applications.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Scottish Government to remove absolute exemption for Royal communications from FOI Bill

The Scottish Government has announced its intention to remove the absolute exemption for information relating to communications with the Queen, the Heir and the second in line to the throne from its Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. In its Stage 1 report on the Bill the Scottish Parliament's Finance Committee said it "remained unconvinced of the need" for the provision, having received "substantial evidence" from witnesses including the Scottish Information Commissioner and Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (see earlier post).

The Government also outlined a further amendment which will place new obligations on Scottish Ministers to regularly review extending the scope of the legislation to cover additional bodies, and the range of organisations who are consulted when considering extensions through Section 5 of the Act will be widened.

Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said:
We've carefully considered the views of the Finance Committee, the Scottish Information Commissioner and other stakeholders and we are lodging two key amendments today which will help to make our procedures here in Scotland even stronger.

Having carefully considered the report of the Finance Committee, we have concluded that the principle of public interest as regards Royal communications should be maintained. As a result, and subject to the views of the Parliament, we are now proposing that there should be no absolute exemption for information relating to communications with senior members of the Royal Family.

We remain firmly of the view that communications between Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family with Scottish Ministers - and other public authorities - should be handled sensitively and confidentially, with strict and appropriate application of the exemptions contained within the current Freedom of Information Act.

I also believe that the scope of bodies covered by Freedom of Information must be kept under regular review to ensure that the regime remains robust and relevant. Our amendments aim to do just that.
The Bill will be considered by the Finance Committee at Stage 2 on 5 December.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Human Rights Committee concerned new National Crime Agency will be exempt from FOI

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has published a Report on the Crime and Courts Bill which will be considered at Report stage in the House of Lords from Tuesday 27 November. In its Report the Committee expresses concern that the new National Crime Agency to be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act:
19. The Bill provides for the NCA to be exempt from freedom of information ("FOI") legislation. The NCA's predecessor, the Serious Organised Crime Agency ("SOCA") was similarly exempt from the FOI Act, but the functions which the NCA will take on from the UK Border Agency and the National Policing Improvement Agency were not previously exempt.

20. We asked the Government for its justification for excluding from the scope of the FOI legislation functions which were formerly within the scope of that legislation. The Government's response is that the functions transferring into the NCA which were formerly within the scope of FOI legislation are expected to make up only a small part of the Agency (about 8% of staff and 5% of budget), and it is not considered possible to ring-fence the functions of the precursor agencies for the purposes of the application of FOI legislation. This, the Government explains, is because the NCA is being designed as an integrated whole—to ensure a free flow of information between the central intelligence hub and all parts of the Agency, and it would defeat the purpose of such an approach if individual parts had to be cordoned off as subject to the FOI Act. Precursor units are also considered to be unlikely to be clearly identifiable as distinct entities within the new NCA.

21. The Government also states that it is committed to ensuring that the NCA will be transparent, notwithstanding that FOI legislation will not apply to it. The Director General will be under a statutory duty to make arrangements for publishing information about the exercise of NCA functions, and the sorts of information that will be published will be set out in the NCA's Framework Document, which will itself be published and laid before Parliament. The Government expects that as a result the NCA will in fact publish more information than its predecessors.

22. We are not convinced by the Government's justification for reducing the coverage of freedom of information legislation by including within the NCA exemption functions which were previously covered by that legislation. We are concerned that reducing the coverage of this legislation in this way could create a dangerous precedent. It is not uncommon for this legislation to apply to certain of an organisation's functions but not others, and we need a good deal more evidence from the Government to persuade us why the NCA should be any different.
During the Bill's Committee stage in the House of Lords, Baroness Hamwee moved an amendment to to make the NCA subject to the FOI Act. Following a reply from the Home Office minister, Lord Henley, the Baroness said "I am afraid that I remain unconvinced" that the NCA "should be exempt in its totality". She withdrew the amendment but said "this issue justifies further examination".

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Consultation on the new draft code of practice on datasets

The Cabinet Office is consulting on a new code of practice on the new provisions in the Freedom of Information Act inserted by the Protection of Freedoms Act that enhance the right to data. These new provisions on datasets will be commenced in April 2013. The Code of Practice (datasets) will sit alongside the existing Section 45 Code of Practice on the Freedom of Information Act.
The public have always been able to request datasets under the Freedom of Information Act however, provisions relating to their disclosure and re-use conditions have developed in a piecemeal way. The aim of the new provisions in the Act is to consolidate the complex landscape around the release of datasets for use and re-use and for this new code to make public authorities aware of their new responsibilities, to reduce potential confusion and bring clarity to what is expected of public authorities undertaking their new duties.

This new draft Code of Practice (datasets) aims to make it clear as to what is meant by the terms set out in the new provisions in the FOI Act. For example, what is meant by “an electronic form which is capable of re-use” or a “re-usable format” for the purposes of the Act. Over the last few months, the Cabinet Office has prepared this draft alongside the Ministry of Justice, the National Archives and the Information Commissioners Office. As committed to in the Open Data White Paper, we are now holding an online consultation to hear your views and comments on where the code can be improved or expanded upon so it provides the best guidance possible to public authorities who will in future rely on it as they carry out their new duties. 
... 
The new draft code also outlines the licensing framework in which public authorities must use when making their datasets available for re-use. Together with the Open Government Licence, which the draft code encourages public authorities to use, and the Non-Commercial Government Licence, a new licence has been drafted for potential use by public authorities that have reason to charge for the re-use of the dataset they hold or produce. This new licence, it’s working title the ‘Charged Licence’ will form a suite of ‘specified licences’ provided for in the new datasets provisions of the FOI Act. The National Archives today published the licence in beta form and alongside the consultation for the new Code of Practice (datasets) and they are interested in receiving comments on the licence as to whether the simplified terms and conditions adequately meet the requirements of licensors and re-users alike, as well as feedback on the working title of the new licence.
The consultation ends on 10th January 2013. Responses can be submitted online or sent to transparency.strategy@cabinet-office.gsi.gov.uk

Comments on the beta licence should be sent to the Information Policy Team at the National Archives at psi@nationalarchives.gsi.gov.uk by 10 January 2013.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Changing notions of privacy - call for papers

I have been asked to post the following call for papers for the Fifth Northumbria Information Rights Conference which will take place on Wednesday 1 May 2013 at the Centre for Life,  Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK.
The theme of the conference will be “Changing notions of privacy”. Our aim is both to explore developing understandings of privacy, and the tensions that exist between privacy, openness and freedom of expression.

The following topics will be explored within the overall theme, and papers will be grouped for presentation accordingly:
  • What is privacy? 
  • Privacy v freedom of expression 
  • Technology and the challenges of protecting privacy 
  • Privacy in a commercial context 
  • Privacy and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 
  • Privacy or openness 
  • Privacy and the Data Protection Act 1998 
This call is open to academics, postgraduate students and practitioners from all disciplines, but particularly law, politics, information science and records management. Those interested in presenting a paper are invited to submit abstracts to the conference administrator Maureen Cooke. We particularly welcome abstracts which fall within the above themes, however, we will also consider abstracts which do not fall within these themes but which are nonetheless relevant to the overall theme.

Abstracts should be submitted by 7th December 2012. They should not exceed 300 words. Submission must be by Word document e-mail attachment to Maureen Cooke at the email address shown above and should include, in addition to the abstract, your title, name and organisation/institutional affiliation and your email address for correspondence.

All proposals will be reviewed, and successful applicants will be notified at the latest by 21st December 2012. Each speaker whose abstract is accepted will be allotted 20 minutes for presentation of their paper plus time for round-table discussion.

Please note that speakers will not be exempt from the registration fee for the conference but will be entitled to the early registration discount. A booking form with full registration fees will be available early in 2012. Please contact Maureen Cooke for any general enquiries about the conference or telephone 0191 243 7597

Media Update 1st-15th November 2012

Maritime agency's Monaco trip funded by taxpayer - BBC - 15.11.12
Officials of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have been criticised for spending almost £20,000 sending four people to an annual boat show in Monaco during a period of cuts.

London councils spend £23 million telling us about them - London Evening Standard - 14.11.12
London councils spent more than £23 million on publicity last year. The bill is down more than 50 per cent from 2009/10, when it hit £56.5 million. In 2008/09, more than £60 million was spent, suggesting that boroughs are tightening their belts.

South Yorkshire Police staff morale low, survey finds - BBC - 14.11.12
An internal staff survey, conducted in March by South Yorkshire Police, found that morale within the force had fallen. In figures disclosed under a Freedom of Information request by the BBC more than 1,200 staff said morale at work was "low" or "very low". 

NHS staff discuss rejecting FOI request in leaked email - The Telegraph - 13.11.12
According to a leaked email NHS staff discussed how they could prevent publication of financial documents subject to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Under-fire academy paid nearly £80,000 to law firm - Yorshire Post - 13.11.12
Outwood Grange Academy paid an international corporate law firm almost £80,000 to handle its press and freedom of information requests. The spending began in January 2011 when academies became subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and despite the academy already employing a solicitor as its legal officer. After initially providing a total for spending with the law firm up to April last year, Outwood then refused to provide updated figures after further FOI requests. In June this year the Information Commissioner ruled the academy should provide the figures but Outwood appealed the decision. The legal action was eventually withdrawn when a judge told the academy its case had no chance of succeeding.

Secret 28 'scientific experts' who greened the BBC - revealed! - The Register - 13.11.12
A list of attendees at a climate-change seminar the BBC has spent tens of thousands of pounds trying to keep secret has been unearthed on an internet archive. The listed names emerged after the publicly-funded broadcaster won a legal battle to keep the list secret under freedom of information (FOI) laws. The seminar was cited by the BBC Trust as the basis for the broadcaster's abandonment of impartiality when reporting on climate change.The BBC argued that it was able to derogate from the Freedom of Information Act because the seminar was held "for the purposes of journalism" and its attendance list is therefore protected by the law. On Friday the tribunal ruled decisively in favour of the BBC.

Councils slash spending on new library books - Northern Echo - 12.11.12
Research using freedom of information powers reveals local authorities in the North East and North Yorkshire have cut spending on library books by 34 per cent in five years.

A compelling case for transparency on radiation - Scottish Herald - 11.11.12
Revelations that Government scientists have discovered a near-doubling in the incidence of cancers among people living near the radioactively contaminated area at Dalgety Bay will add to concerns of local residents.

Streets where no pupils pass GCSEs - Express - 11.11.12
Britain's education system has left entire neighbourhoods with teenagers who have no GCSEs. Data revealed by freedom of information requests provides details down to the exact streets that are home to these children. Thirty neighbourhoods are identified where no children passed five GCSEs, including English and Maths.

Misery of Brighton and Hove's bullied kids - The Argus - 09.11.12
More than 130 secondary school pupils cited bullying as the reason they wanted to move to a new school in Brighton and Hove in the last two academic years. Figures obtained under Freedom of Information rules also show that the number of bullied children looking to change schools in the city has increased by 20% in 2011/12 from the previous year.

Herefordshire parish council facing High Court over freedom of information concern - Hereford Times - 09.11.12
The Information Commissioner's Office has ordered Border Group Parish Council to respond to a freedom of information (FoI) request by the end of the year or face the Hight Court. The Herefordshire man has been waiting 18 months for his parish council to show him their FoI publication scheme.

Decc 'spends £1.5m on flights' - The York Press - 09.11.12
The Department of Energy and Climate Change spent £1.5 million on flights in two years, with £250,000 of this expended on domestic journeys.

Ash dieback: government claimed its 'hands were tied' on import ban - The Guardian - 08.11.12
Letters from 2009, obtained by Friends of the Earth via a Freedom of Information request, show government said it could not act on tree disease due to European and world trade rules after it was warned that ash dieback disease could have a huge impact on the British countryside.

Stormont department took 320 days to answer FoI request - BBC - 08.11.12
A retired civil servant, Mr Jeffrey Dudgeon, has complained at the time taken by a Stormont department to answer a Freedom of Information request. Outstanding material was eventually provided the day before a scheduled judicial review of the matter.

Society steps in over Hamza legal aid row - The Law Society Gazette - 08.11.12
The Law Society has offered to work with the government to increase public understanding and confidence in legal aid after the justice minister, Chris Grayling, announced an 'immediate examination' of the system following the Abu Hamza extradition case.  The minister ordered the review after a freedom of information request by the Daily Mail revealed that £680,000 was spent in legal aid on the Hamza case.

1,500 children have DNA taken by North Yorkshire Police - The Yorkshire Post - 08.11.12
More than 1,500 children have had their DNA swabbed by North Yorkshire Police in the past two years. Some of these were as young as ten years old. Swabs have been taken even when such children have not been charged with any offence. The figures were revealed under the Freedom of Information Act. A spokesman for North Yorkshire Police said, "DNA is a very important and successful tool used in the detection of crimes, some of which have been solved years after they were committed.

SNP pressures councils to allow more wind farms - The Telegraph - 08.11.12
Scottish Borders Council is being asked to change a new blueprint for the area's future development after government officials complained of "negative language" about wind farms. Correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act show that a senior Scottish Government planner rebuked the local authority for suggesting "the Borders Council is at saturation point for wind farms."

Foreign drivers flock to switch licences - Auto Express - 07.11.12
More than one million motorists have converted foreign driving permits to a British licence over the past 15 years, without needing any training on British roads. This figure was obtained by insurer Swiftcover.com by a Freedom of Information request and has prompted the insurance company to call for mandatory formal training for such motorists, who could have learned to drive in countries with very different driving conditions.

'Only five families claiming £100,000 in housing benefit' - Dash.com - 06.11.12
An analysis of the Government's much publicised claim that some families are receiving over £100,000 a year in housing costs has revealed that there are perhaps only five in the country doing so. Full Fact, an independent data-checking organisation, made a Freedom of Information request to the Department or Work and Pensions and has concluded that "it is clear from what we've unearthed that the extremely large claims highlighted in the media are also extremely rare".

Olympic Torch relay cost North Wales Police £31,000 - The Daily Post - 06.11.12
A freedom of information request has revealed that £22,618 was spent on additional pay for North Wales Police officers and staff, including overtime, overnight allowance, unsocial hours and national insurance payments. A total of £5,115 was spent on "other costs" such as repairs and maintenance and recovery of vehicles and equipment, with a further £3,640 being spent on subsistence. North Wales Police say they received no funding from the Olympic safety and security budget for the role they played in the torch relay.

Millions 'wasted' on consultation into hospital closures - Harrow Observer - 05.11.12
NHS North West London released the cost of the Shaping a Healthier Future consultation, which has been called a 'complete waste' by campaigners, following a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The bill is said to be £7 million, which included nearly £4 million in fees to consultancy firm McKinsey. There has been opposition to proposals to merge some hospital services and close the A&E department at Central Middlesex Hospital.

Councils spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on smartphones and other gadgets for employees - The Northern Echo - 05.11.12
Data released under FoI shows local authorities in the North-East and North Yorkshire have invested more than £600,000 on smartphones and tablet computers for staff and politicians. While this spending is only a fraction of councils' budgets it comes amid fears a fresh wave of austerity cutbacks is about to see millions of pounds wiped from key services such as elderly care.

Hertfordshire County Council's £7m travel expenses in two years, and just £19k on public transport - Welwyn Hatfield Times - 05.11.12
Figures obtained under FoI show that between September 2010 and September 2012 Hertfordshire County Council spent almost £7 million on transport for staff and politicians. Of that total, just £19,082 was spent of public transport, drawing criticism from opposition members.

Anger as crimes are left unsolved by Wiltshire Police - Swindon Advertiser - 04.11.12
Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that nearly a quarter of all crime reported to Wiltshire Police is not investigated beyond a desktop study or a phone call.

Domestic Violence: Women's services face 'disastrous' cuts as councils slash Budgets, FOI reveals - Huffington Post - 04.11.12
Services aimed at helping vulnerable women, including refuges and rape crisis centres, are being reduced as local authorities cut budgets. Karen Ingala Smith, the chief executive of domestic violence charity Nia, told the Huffington Post UK vulnerable women could be left "with nowhere to go" after cuts.

How ministers rewrote the rules 'to hide lack of EU legal advice' - Herald Scotland - 04.11.12
Alex Salmond's Government has been accused of manipulating the Ministerial Code to avoid questions over an independent Scotland's place in the European Union. The First Minister claimed that he was unable to say whether he had received legal advice on Scotland's EU membership due to a gagging clause in the code. The receipt of legal advice is significant because although the SNP insists that upon Scottish independence Scotland would automatically be an EU member and avoid the euro others claim Scotland may have to apply for membership and adopt the euro.

In May last year, a labour MEP used FoI to ask the SNP Government if it had been given specific legal advice on the subject. Ministers refused to answer and that refusal was appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner, who ordered to Government to confirm if it had received any advice. The SIC said there was a "strong public interest" in establishing whether or not advice existed on such an important subject.

The Scottish Government then appealed to the Court of Session to keep the matter secret, arguing that the Ministerial Code made it impossible to confirm or deny the existence of legal advice. The particular section of the Code cited by the Government was, however, rewritten while the SIC was considering the appeal, leading to the accusations of manipulation by the Government.

Two weeks ago, after years of asserting that Scotland would automatically be in the EU, ministers finally admitted they had never had any specific advice from their own law officers in support of the claims.

Concerns over neurology care - The York Press - 03.11.12
There are serious flaws in the way more than one million people disabled by neurological conditions are identified, according to a report by the charity Sue Ryder, based on Freedom of Information data.

Thousands of hospital appointments missed at Stoke Mandeville - Thame Gazette - 03.11.12
A Freedom of Information request to Bucks Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Stoke Mandeville Hospital, showed that of 263,704 hospital appointments made during 2011/12 more than 16,000 were missed. The Trust is currently piloting a text alert service to remind people about their appointments.

101 calles go unanswered - Northampton Herald & Post - 02.11.12
Statistics revealed through a Freedom of Information enquiry by the Conservative candidate to become Northamptonshire's police and crime commissioner indicate one in five calls to Northamptonshire Police's 101 non-emergency number have been going unanswered. Deirdre Newham, Chair of the Police Authority said new systems have been put in place into the Force Control Room that have resulted in significant improvements in performance.

Charity wants urgent action against abuse - Dorset Echo - 02.11.12
NSPCC is calling for urgent action after a freedom of information request revealed that Dorset Police made 49 arrests for child abuse pictures in one year.

Call to disclose Sizewell N-plant data - Eastern Daily Press - 02.11.12
Opponents of Sizewell C claim that vital technical information on the proposed nuclear reactors is being withheld by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, ostensibly on grounds of commercial confidentiality.

Concern at backlog in records of gun owners - Plymouth Herald - 02.11.12
Following a Freedom of Information request by The Herald, Devon and Cornwall Police admitted that as of September 17 it had around  6,250 gun transfer amendments which had yet to be added to its electronic records.

Northampton missing millions in unpaid council tax - Northampton Chronicle - 02.11.12
Statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the amount of unpaid council tax in the town since 2005 stands at £6.7 million

Sherwood Forest NHS Trust reveals £1bn PFI overspend - BBC - 02.11.12
The costs of redeveloping a hospital in Nottinghamshire under a PFI deal have more than doubled to over £2bn, according to figures obtained by BBC under a Freedom of Information request.

Royal Family can't ignore public's right to know, insist MSPs - Scotsman - 02.11.12
Plans to let the Royal family escape the glare of Freedom of Information laws in Scotland have been rejected by MSPs who say they should face the same scrutiny as other public bodies.

William Hague spent £10,000 stuffing Albert the snake - Huffington Post - 01.11.12
Foreign Secretary William Hague has spent £10,000 re-stuffing the Foreign Office Snake. The price tag was revealed following an FOI request to the Foreign Office.

Most government departments won't publish data on sector funding - Civil Society - 01.11.12
Most central government departments will not publish full information about levels of funding to the voluntary sector so it is impossible to track whether they are making disproportionate cuts or adhering to Compact principles, Compact Voice has discovered by making Freedom of Information Act requests.

85% of hospital trusts adopt controversial end-of-life care regime - The Independent - 01.11.12
Data obtained using the Freedom of Information Act suggest that 85% of hospitals trusts use a controversial care regime, known as the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP), which can involve withholding food and drink from terminally-ill patients. Furthermore, figures suggest that almost two-thirds of trusts that have used the LCP have received financial incentives for the implementation of the method.

Bath's Royal United 'took £1.3m in parking charges' - Western Daily Press - 01.11.12
The Western Daily Press reported how NHS trusts in the Bristol area collected more than £2.3 million last year, from patients, visitors and staff. The information was obtained by Gloucestershire MP, Chris Skidmore, under the Freedom of Information Act. He discovered that Bath's Royal United Hospital took £1.3 million, and both Great Western Hospitals and Salisbury NHS Trusts received over £1 million.

Met Police got £22.7m from sponsors, FOI request finds -  BBC - 01.11.12
The Metropolitan Police has received donations and sponsorship worth £22.7 m from dozens of organisations over the past five years, the BBC has learned from figures disclosed following a Freedom of Information Act request. Although Scotland Yard said it had a "long history" of working with different partners to tackle crime, London Assembly Green member Jenny Jones questioned whether it was right for police to accept such donations and called for the Met to "rethink" the policy. She said, "Some of this looks like rent-a-cop policing, which I think the majority of the public would not find acceptable."

Coverage of this story also appeared here - The Guardian - 01.11.12 - and here - The Independent - 01.11.12

Solent NHS Trust patient data left at market stall - BBC - 01.11.12
Patients' confidential information has been left at a market stall and on top of a parking meter in a series of data breaches by Solent NHS Trust. A Freedom of Information request by the BBC revealed the trust had breached data protection 93 times in the past two years.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Government appealing ruling on disclosure of 20+ year old Rowntree takeover papers

The Government are reported to be seeking to appeal against the recent decision by the Information Rights Tribunal (Cabinet Office v IC, EA/2011/0263) ordering the disclosure of information relating to the controversial takeover of Rowntree Mackintosh by Nestle in 1988. At the time of the request the disputed information was at least 22 years old.

The decision to appeal is illogical given the Government's decision to proceed with reducing the "30 year rule" to 20 years. The decision to move to a 20 year rule was taken by the previous Labour Government, following a review by Paul Dacre. The Coalition Government confirmed it would go ahead with the policy on 7 January 2011.

Lord McNally recently announced that the Government intended to start implementing the change in 2013, with two years' worth of records being transferred to the National Archives every year until the transition is complete in 2023. He also confirmed there would be a corresponding reduction in the maximum lifespan of a number of FOI exemptions including section 35. He said:
The change to a "20-year rule" is a key part of our Transparency Agenda and will see a wealth of historical material opened to the public much earlier than under current arrangements. The aim is to provide greater openness and accountability, strengthening democracy through more timely public scrutiny of government policy and decision-making. 
Yet the Cabinet Office is now seeking to appeal a decision ordering the disclosure of information from 1988, even though the Government has accepted that 20 year old policy discussions should not be exempt.

The Cabinet Office refused to disclose five documents about the takeover under sections 35(1)(a) and (b) citing the need to protect collective responsibility. It also refused to even confirm or deny whether the takeover had been discussed by the cabinet. However, the Tribunal concluded the public interest favoured disclosure of the information:
71. We accept that government must be given a protected safe space for policy formulation and development. However in the circumstances of this case we find that there is very little evidence that merger policy or the Ministerial Code were under active policy review during the time period. In any case merger policy is very different today to that in 1988. Therefore we find the need for a safe space was diminished and accordingly the weight we should attribute to this public interest factor.

73. In contrast the public interest in transparency and openness in this case seems to us to be very weighty indeed. This is not only for the reasons given by the Commissioner and Mr Aitchison [the requester], and the likely continuing consequences for employment in the confectionary industry in York. There is also a weighty public interest in knowing that when a Minister of the Crown is charged with exercising a quasi-judicial function (as was the case with the decision which fell to Lord Young to take about the takeover of Rowntree), the quasi-judicial role of the decision maker was not compromised by improper political or other pressures.
Draw your own conclusions!

Scottish Parliament to debate Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill

The Stage 1 debate on the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill will take place this afternoon in the Scottish Parliament, shortly after 2.30 pm. You can watch the debate live at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/newsandmediacentre/30912.aspx.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland and UNISON Scotland are urging the Scottish Parliament to endorse the report of the Finance Committee which scrutinised the principles of the Bill. The Committee called for the Scottish Government to drop the proposed new absolute exemption for information relating to communications with Her Majesty, the Heir, and second in line to the Throne. It also expressed concern around the lack of extension of FoI coverage and asked the Scottish Government to consider amendments to address this at the Bill’s Stage 2 (see earlier post).

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland has produced a briefing for the debate available at http://www.cfoi.org.uk/pdf/foisa(amendment)billstage1brief.pdf

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Slow progress on coalition's commitment to extend FOI

Although the coalition government is committed to extending the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, the process is turning out to be excruciatingly slow.

Before the 2010 election the Conservatives promised to extend the FOI Act to additional bodies "within weeks of the General Election". A consultation was announced by the Ministry of Justice on 7 January 2011, but two and a half years after the election, a decision on the outcome is still not close.

A recent parliamentary question by Stewart Jackson MP asked what progress had been made extending the Act to registered providers of social housing. The minister's answer revealed that consultation with these bodies is yet to even begin, despite Grant Shapps, the former housing minister, promising back in June 2011 they would be consulted later that year. It also confirmed that it could be spring 2015 before the extension of FOI to bodies with public functions is complete.

Last year, the MoJ disclosed further details about which bodies it is consulting about coverage following a FOI request by the Campaign. Someone else asked for the responses received by the MoJ from those bodies, but the MoJ refused that citing the exemption for information relating to the formulation or development of government policy. The Information Commissioner recently upheld the department's refusal to disclose the responses on the grounds that the policy process was still live at the time of the request. The Commissioner's decision cites the strong weight that should be attached to 'safe space' arguments and, to a lesser extent, the 'chilling effect', as the two reasons for his finding that the public interest favoured withholding the information, despite the fact that the disputed information involved third party information and not the advice of officials.

In contrast, the Ombudsman in New Zealand has just published a case note on a complaint where she found there was no good reason to withhold responses to a government consultation exercise which were still under active consideration under the Official Information Act (h/t Andrew Ecclestone):
Ombudsmen have rejected the argument that premature release of public submissions would impede the subsequent development and consideration of policy advice by officials and Ministers. Disclosure of submissions cannot pre-empt or prejudice the ability to consider later advice that may in part be based on the submissions. Officials remain free to advise Ministers (and Ministers to advise Cabinet) about the merit or lack of merit in particular submissions as they see fit, and to offer such additional advice as they deem appropriate. 
It's clear that section 5 is not the appropriate mechanism for resolving anomalies in the legislation's coverage, given the time it takes. Last year the Campaign worked with Lord Wills on an amendment to the Localism Act which would have brought the Housing Ombudsman under FOI, though the amendment was not accepted. From 1 April 2013, the Housing Ombudsman's jurisdiction will be extended to all social housing in England. The government is consulting the Ombudsman on FOI coverage and the Service's website says it "will follow the terms of the Act voluntarily whenever possible". But judging by the minister's answer it will be several years yet before requesters have a legally enforceable right to obtain information from it.

Friday, November 02, 2012

FOI Media Update - October 2012

Tax-dodging clampdown will aid open-government commitments - The Guardian - 30.10.12
Eric Gutierrez, senior governance advisor at Christian Aid, states that the UK government's transparency commitments and its leadership of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) are commendable. However, some transparency commitments are more politically difficult than others, he says, and it's the difficult ones that, so far, are still not appearing in the government's agenda for the OGP.

Whistleblowing cases soar by 276 per cent since beginning of financial crisis - Lawyer Monthly 30.10.12
Whistleblowing cases reported to the Financial Services Authority have increased by 276 per cent in four years, according to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Kroll Advisory Solutions, the global investigations firm. Kroll, which provides corporate investigations, says that over the last 12 months almost one in five (18 per cent) of its investigations were prompted by a whistleblower.

DfE spent £13k on legal advice after FOI for Gove’s private emails - Computerworld UK -29.10.12
The Department for Education (DfE) spent some £12,539.50 on legal advice relating to a freedom of information (FOI) request for information in education secretary Michael Gove’s private emails. The Information Commissioner ruled that the DfE had to respond to the request because the information in the emails amounted to departmental business. The DfE initially launched an appeal against the Commissioner's decision, but has now withdrawn its appeal.

Pilots in safety scares after 'falling asleep mid-air while flying' - The Telegraph - 29.10.12
Two pilots fell asleep while flying planes full of passengers. The safety scares emerged as the British Airlines Pilots Association warned the problem was commonplace. In one incident, a captain left to use the lavatory but when he return could not raise his first officer through the radio, according to the Sun newspaper. The captain then used a code to get back in the cockpit where he found the pilot "slumped over the controls",  according to official records of the incident. The Civil Aviation Authority records were obtained by the newspaper under Freedom of Information laws.

Ambassador held official talks with US defence firm he later joined - Independent - 28.10.12
Sir David Manning, the former UK Ambassador to Washington and a foreign affairs adviser to Tony Blair, met with senior executives at Lockheed Martin and gave advice on the handling of contracts affecting the company before taking a paid role with the defence giant.

Documents released under a Freedom of Information request disclose the contacts Sir David had with the multinational arms manufacturer before he left the diplomatic service and became a non-executive director of the UK wing of Lockheed Martin. The documents, which were released only after pressure from the Information Commissioner, will raise further concerns about the "revolving door" involving defence companies and senior figures from the public sector.

Eric Pickles: Savile scandal shows BBC is too secretive - The Telegraph - 28.10.12
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, called on the corporation to embrace transparency, allow requests under freedom of information laws and publish spending data if it wants to restores itself “in the affection of the nation”.

Publish full MPs' expenses receipts, IPSA orders - The Telegraph - 27.10.12
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), which oversees expenses payments, has been told by the Information Commissioner that it must disclose the receipts handed in by MPs to back up their claims. It was found that Ipsa had breached the Freedom of Information Act and was given five weeks to hand over the documents or face prosecution for contempt of court. Ipsa said it was studying the ruling. It must consider whether to appeal.

Labour and tories under fire for inflating Trident job losses - Herald Scotland - 27.10.12
Labour and the Conservatives have been accused of misleading the public by exaggerating the number of jobs that would be lost if the Trident nuclear weapons system were removed from the Clyde. Figures released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) under freedom of information law reveal that only 520 civilian jobs at Faslane and Coulport near Helensburgh are directly dependent on Trident. This contrasts with the 6000-11,000 jobs that pro-Trident politicians claim are at risk. Predicted job losses are central to the arguments about Scottish independence, which could see Scotland refuse to allow nuclear warheads on its soil.

Landmark victory for police candidate - Western Telegraph - 27.10.12
A senior police officer has won a landmark victory in his quest to find out why he didn’t get the job of Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys Police. Howard Roberts, formerly Deputy Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire, is convinced that something went awry with the selection process for the Dyfed-Powys job in 2008. Now a tribunal has upheld his claim under the FOI Act and ordered Dyfed-Powys Police Authority to give him more information, which includes personal data on an HM Inspectorate of Constabulary official who sat in on the selection. Upholding Mr Roberts challenge, Judge Farrar said: “There can be no question as to the substantial public interest in the integrity of the selection procedure for any public office, but most particularly an office as responsible and politically sensitive as that of Chief Constable."

Welsh hospital bed numbers fall by 1,000 in three years - BBC - 26.10.12
The number of beds in Welsh hospitals has fallen by more than 1,000 (8%) in three years, BBC Wales has discovered. Statistics from Welsh health boards after Freedom of Information requests also reveal that many hospitals are routinely overcrowded.

Hospitals 'paid millions to put patients on death pathway' - The Telegraph - 26.10.12
Hospitals are being paid millions of pounds to reach targets for the number of patients put on a controversial pathway for the withdrawal of life-saving treatment, according to data based on Freedom of Information requests.

Compensation payouts for hospital workers - The Leigh Reporter - 26.10.12
Employees at the borough’s hospitals are still claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation following accidents at work. A Freedom of Information request to Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) has revealed that the last year five of 20 claims submitted have been settled, resulting in pay-outs of £38,250. From 2009/10 to 2011/12 WWL has been liable for £225,685 in injury pay-outs which could rise if the outstanding cases are successful.

Manchester Council spends £19m on consultants – as it makes £109m of cuts - Manchester Evening News - 25.10.12
Manchester council spent almost £19m on consultants in three years – at the same time as making £109m worth of cuts. Town hall bosses spent the money hiring outside experts as they brought in a series of cuts to jobs and services. The figures were obtained under Freedom of Information by the city’s Liberal Democrat opposition who slammed the council for spending taxpayers’ cash ‘lining the pockets’ of consultants.

Oil companies going unpunished for thousands of North Sea spills - The Guardian - 25.10.12
Oil companies operating in the North Sea have been fined for oil spills on just seven occasions since 2000, even though 4,123 separate spills were recorded over the same period, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) has confirmed. The disclosure came as Decc said on Thursday that the government had offered a "record-breaking" 167 new licences to oil and gas companies seeking to drill in the North Sea. Total fines resulting from prosecutions between 2000 and 2011 came to just £74,000 and no single oil company had to pay more than £20,000. Information about the fines was released by Decc after a freedom of information request and further inquiries by the Guardian.

Political editor wins battle to get FoI requests answered - Hold The Front Page - 24.10.12
A newspaper journalist whose two Freedom of Information requests have remained unanswered for a year has won the backing of the Information Commissioner. Paul Francis, political editor at the KM Group, submitted requests to two government departments around a year ago but has not received any formal response to one of them and has appealed for further details on another. After failing to receive answers to his requests Mr Francis complained to the Information Commissioner, who has now given the two departments a deadline to reply.

Cumbria police taser figures revealed - North West Evening Mail - 22.10.12
Tasers have been deployed by police in Cumbria more than 100 times, it was revealed following a Freedom of Information request. Information received showed that Tasers were deployed 139 times from March last year to August this year. Thirty of these instances involved firing the Tasers.

Vulnerable to be hurt most by 'inhumane' support cuts - Independent - 22.10.12
The Independent's survey of local authorities in England based on Freedom of Information requests found that only 14 per cent currently provide help for those with moderate social care needs. This is set to fall to 11 per cent next year as councils – including Darlington, Rochdale and York – are forced to make further cuts to social care budgets.

Mobile phone driver danger revealed - Wigan Today - 21.10.12
Thousands of motorists are still putting lives at risk by phoning at the wheel. Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request revealed that more than 2,350 drivers in Wigan have been issued with a fixed penalty notice in the last three years after being caught either texting or phoning while their vehicle is in motion.

Watchdog clears police over Kelly pictures - Witney Gazette - 20.10.12
The Information Commissioner has upheld Thames Valley Police’s decision not to release uncensored photographs relating to the death of weapons inspector Dr David Kelly, saying the release would cause “significant distress” to the family of the scientist, whose body was found in woods at Harrowdown Hill, near his Southmoor home in 2003.

DWP fired hundreds of staff for not turning up at work - Personnel Today - 19.10.12
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed 672 people last year for unsatisfactory attendance, a Freedom of Information Act request has revealed. The data also found the average number of sick days per DWP employee and that of other government departments.

Ben Wallace MP: policiticians will suffer while Commons secrecy continues - The Telegraph - 19.10.12
The Speaker's attempt to block the publication of a new tranche of MP's expenses could damage politicians' reputations, argues Conservative MP Ben Wallace.

Attorney General blocks disclosure of Prince Charles letters to ministers - The Guardian - 16.10.12
The government has blocked the disclosure of a set of confidential letters written by Prince Charles to ministers. The attorney general issued a veto that puts an absolute block on the publication of 27 letters between the prince and ministers over a seven-month period. The decision comes after seven government departments lost a long-running freedom of information battle over the disclosure of the letters. The veto overrides last month's ruling by the tribunal that the public had a right to know how the prince sought to change government policy. Following his decision, the Guardian announced that it would be seeking to take the government to the high court to challenge the veto on the grounds that it had acted unreasonably.

Scottish Parliament Finance Committee seeks removal of Royal exemption from FOI Bill

The Scottish Parliament's Finance Committee has today published its Stage 1 report on the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. The report asks the Scottish Government to remove the Royal exemption provision from the Bill, which would mirror the absolute exemption for information relating to communications with the monarch, heir and second in line to throne that was controversially introduced to the UK FOI Act by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.

The report also states that the Committee shares the concerns expressed by the Scottish Information Commissioner, Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland and others, around the lack of extension of FoI coverage and has asked the Scottish Government to consider amendments to the FoI Act at the Bill’s Stage 2:
While the Committee recognises the Scottish Government’s intention to defer consideration of the extension of coverage until the Bill has been considered by Parliament, it invites the Cabinet Secretary to provide details and timings of how the Scottish Government intends to take forward this work and clarify what the options are which she is ‘actively considering’, including the possibility of Stage 2 amendments to section 5 of the 2002 Act. In the light of this response, the Committee will reconsider its position on this issue at Stage 2.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland welcomed the Committee's conclusions and said the Scottish Government must have the courage to reform the Scottish Freedom of Information Act. Carole Ewart, Co-convener, said:
We are delighted that the Finance Committee has identified that people’s right to know is not as effective in 2012, as it was in 2002 when the law was passed, and 2005 when it came into force. It is now time for the Scottish Government to accept the Committee’s conclusions and the evidence provided and introduce the necessary amendments so Scottish FoI law is once more pre-eminent in the UK.