Freedom of Information news, Issue 14

01/05/2006
Tags:
  1. Section 45 Code of Practice due for review
  2. ICO accepts MOD decision on cost limit
  3. Nearly a fifth of FOI requests not replied to in time
  4. Scottish Information Commissioner to launch enquiry into poor FOI performance

1. Section 45 Code of Practice due for review

The FOI Code of Practice on the Discharge of Public Authorities’ Functions will be reviewed towards the end of the year with regard to the extra time allowed to public authorities on grounds of public interest to respond to FOI requests, and time frames for internal reviews, said Baroness Ashton of Upholland, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs. At the moment, the code does not specify time limits for either situation, and there have been concerns that public authorities are allowed too much time.

She admitted that there are individual cases where performance could be improved, but overall, she did not see any major problems with response times. The delays sometimes depend on the need to consult others, she said. The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has indicated that two months should be sufficient for considering the public interest argument.

The full transcript of oral evidence given by several FOI experts on March 28 is available at www.publications.parliament.uk. (at present, the transcript is uncorrected by speakers). A video clip of Baroness Ashton of Upholland’s evidence is available at www.parliamentlive.tv (a full transcript will follow later).

2. ICO accepts MOD decision on cost limit

The ICO has accepted the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) decision not to provide information as it would not be possible within the FOI cost ceiling. The requester sought information about “how many Falklands was veterans are in receipt of a War Pension on the basis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” The requester also asked for a breakdown by country (Scotland, England, Wales) and by year of award from 1982 to date.

The MOD refused the request on the grounds that the War Pensions Computer System that records the War Pensions Scheme is unable to identify this particular conflict and therefore no figures are available. An internal review that followed the complaint established that no aggregated data existed, and it would be impossible to gather the data within the cost limit of £600.

The ICO was satisfied with the detailed explanation provided by the MOD and required no further action.

The decision, dated April 13 2006, is available at www.ico.gov.uk (re FS50084565).

3. Nearly a fifth of FOI requests not replied to in time

Recent statistics show that central government authorities’ timeliness in responding to FOI requests within the 20 working day limit is not improving. Between September and December 2005, only 81% of requests were replied to in time. There had been no improvement since the previous quarter.

The statistics, released on April 6, also show that the number of requests is gradually falling after the initial flood of requests. This quarter saw a 4% fall in the number of requests.

The statistics, produced by the Department for Constitutional Affairs, can be found at www.foi.gov.uk/publications.

4. Scottish Commissioner to launch inquiry into poor FOI performance

The Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, will launch an inquiry as a response to a rising level of complaints about poor FOI compliance. Public bodies that consistently fail to comply will be named and shamed, writes The Scotsman newspaper on April 17. The Information Commissioner’s office, which has received twice the number of complaints predicted, is struggling to cope. Mr Dunion is said to be planning to use political pressure on offenders, such as making them the subject of damning parliamentary reports.

See www.scotsman.com.

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