PL&B FOI E-news, Issue 43

1. ICO now spot checking public authorities’ publication schemes

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has begun to monitor public authorities in order to ensure that they are complying with the model publication scheme. The model scheme, which came into effect on 1 January 2009, helps public authorities to adopt publication schemes that are in line with the FOIA.

The ICO started, at the beginning of April, to check whether websites follow publication schemes. Assistant Information Commissioner, Gerrard Tracey said: “We are actively monitoring authorities to promote good practice and ensure that the requirements of the scheme are being met. This is in line with both our enforcement strategy and the specific guidance we have provided to support public authorities in adopting the scheme.”

If discovering any non-compliance, the ICO will, in the first instance, seek an informal resolution.

2. Greater Manchester Police receives practice recommendation for failure to provide timely internal reviews

The ICO has taken action against Greater Manchester Police (GMP) for various failures to provide FOI internal reviews within the recommended timescale. A reasonable time for completing an internal review is, according to ICO guidance, 20 working days from the date of receipt. While there may be some exceptional cases in which it may be reasonable to take longer, no case should take longer than 40 working days. GMP failed on various occasions to stick to these limits and, in some cases, the time taken to provide an internal review was up to 150 working days.

Although the Commissioner welcomes the steps GMP has already taken, he considers that the organisation has simply taken too long to implement, and act upon, his previous informal approaches and recommendations. The ICO therefore issued a practice recommendation on 31 March. It cannot be directly enforced, but a failure to comply may lead to a failure to comply with the Act which in turn may result in the issuing of an Enforcement Notice.

See the practice recommendation and ICO guidance on time scales for internal reviews.

3. Northumbria Police to disclose investigation documents relating to allegation of crime

The Information Tribunal has ruled that the public interest in disclosing documents relating to information held by a public authority for the purposes of an investigation of an alleged offence overrides the public interest exemption.

The case involved an investigation into a serious allegation against a judge. The requester was suspicious that the District Judge “had arranged for his remarks on jurisdiction to be removed from the tape”. The requester reported the matter to Northumbria Police who carried out several investigations. While Northumbria Police concluded in May 2005 that no crime had been committed, the requester challenged this finding.

The Tribunal found that there was a strong public interest in Northumbria Police being able to show that they have carried out a proper and thorough investigation, in particular because of the public needed to be reassured that there was no collusion between authorities or the police and a judge.

The Tribunal found that the negative effect on investigations was weaker in this case because the investigations had closed by the time of the request. Also it found that they were weaker because the relevant witness statements were those of persons involved with technical aspects of the investigation whilst carrying out their professional duties.

See the decision of 14 April.

4. Have your say in Information Tribunal re-structuring

Under the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, the Information Tribunal will become part of the General Regulatory Chamber (GRC). GRC will bring together individual tribunals that hear appeals on regulatory issues.
The GRC is scheduled to commence in September 2009, subject to Parliamentary approval. It will sit within the First-tier Tribunal.
Users will still have their cases heard by judicial specialists trained to hear their specific appeals. Judicial members of the existing tribunals will transfer into the new structure, preserving judicial expertise and ensuring continuity of service.

There will be some changes to the appeals process. The changes and their impact on FOI managers’ work will be discussed in a future issue of PL&B UK Newsletter.

The Tribunal Procedure Committee (TPC) is now consulting on draft procedure rules for the proposed General Regulatory Chamber of the First Tier Tribunal. The consultation closes on 8 May 2009.

For further details on the Privacy Laws & Business UK Newsletter, please click here.

Copyright Privacy Laws & Business 2009