Posted on March 19th, 2010 No comments
Since Christopher Graham took over the hot seat at the Information Commissioner’s Office there has appeared to outsiders to be a somewhat unseemly haste to get down the number of outstanding FoI appeals.
We all know that the geological timeframe it was taking to get Decision Notices out of the ICO was causing frustration on all sides and was one of the things Mr Graham said he would aim to improve.
Well nobody can complain that he hasn’t been a man of his word. The number of Decision Notices issued has increased, yet the grumbling from both applicants and respondents has not gone away.
Why? Because some people feel that there has been a clear trade off between quality and quantity, and while the number of Decision Notices issued has clearly increased the quality of those decisions has been on the decline.
It is a very difficult thing to prove. But I have made an effort to have a look at the trees rather than the wood by getting some figures from the ICO’s office about the number of Decision Notices it has dealt with.
What is clear from the figures is that Mr Graham’s vow to get to grips with the backlog of complaints has been followed through. When he took over in June 2009 the FoI caseload stood at 1,508 and by February this year that had been reduced to 1,057.
This is in some ways explained by a huge increase in the number of Decision Notices issued. In the 2008/09 financial year there were a total of 295 DNs. In the first eleven months of this financial year – Mr Graham started in the third month of the financial year – there have already been 538, and November 2009 saw a record number of 102 DNs issued.
Some might say that part of this increase was due to the crystallisation of the BBC’s derogation, where the High Court’s ruling effectively pulled the rug from under a great number of appeals.
But what is probably more significant is the movement away from issuing DNs and an increasing reliance on informal resolution. The comparable figures for disputes resolved informally is 1,490 in 2008/09 rising to 2,038 in the first 11 months of this financial year.
So we have a situation where with still a month to go this year we have had an extra 243 DNs issued and an additional 548 resolved informally.
Critics suggest that the increasing reliance on informal resolution is short-sighted as the system needs fully reasoned DNs so that people can use these as guidance for the future. Others state that some of the informal resolutions have been the complete opposite of DNs that have already been posted and as such ought to have been made public.
But how can we assess if this undoubted increase in quantity has been matched by a reduction in quality? Not an easy task, but one way might be to look at the number of appeals lodged at the Tribunal, where one party clearly believes the Information Commissioner has made an error in assessing the case.
The number of appeals lodged at the Tribunal has increased from 87 last year to 145 in the first eleven months of this year.
So we have a situation where the number of DN’s has increased 82% and the number going to Tribunal has increased by 67%. This would seem to suggest that there has not been a disproportionate drop in the quality of the DNs.
However, I think we need more time to get a clearer picture of the situation and my own feelings are that the quality of DNs is falling. What really annoys me is that, if this is true, it is such a short-term approach to the problem. Because what will happen is that more people will appeal and more resources in the ICO’s office will be taken up defending poor decisions leaving fewer people to deal with complaints and the whole vicious spiral will start up all over again.
But for now Mr Graham must be feeling quite pleased with himself. So much so that perhaps he might get a bonus at the end of the year. I wonder if getting the caseload down was one of his targets? Perhaps that’s a question I should be asking.
Posted on July 2nd, 2009 No comments
It would appear that with the introduction of a new Information Commissioner the office is no longer putting itself in the stocks for its slow handling of appeals.
I received this letter today relating to an appeal I have lodged against a BBC decision. Normally the letter just tells me they have a lot of work on and that eventually they hope to get to my case.
But this letter is a significant change of course for the Information Commissioner’s Office. They lay the blame quite squarely at a lack of resources – which means money – and by inference the finger is pointed straight at the Ministry of Justice, who hold the purse-strings.
Is this the sign of things to come at the ICO where instead of doing the best they can with limited resources they just throw their hands in the air and say: “It’s not our fault”?
If the latter option is the one that the ICO is going to take my heart sinks as it would suggest a defeatist attitude to backlogs will pervade the organisation and the wait for decisions will take even longer. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
Oh, and if anybody can help me get rid of the line on my scanner I will be eternally grateful.
Posted on May 6th, 2009 2 comments
The Information Commissioner’s Office has come back to me and provided an answer for the number of appeals it has had now for more than a year. The answer is a staggering 416 of which 25 haven’t even been dished out to an officer to start the process of an investigation.
The BBC comes out top of the list – unsurprising really as they try to avoid almost all requests by claiming the Act does not apply to them and referring those complaints straight on to the ICO without offering an internal appeal.
You can find the answer to the question at this link and the spreadsheet shows all the organisations that have an appeal stuck in the ICO’s pipeline. But here are the highlights.
The Public Authorities with the most appeals lodged with the ICO that have been there for more than a year:
Cabinet Office (21)
Home Office (18)
Ministry of Defence (17)
Department of Health (13)
Ministry of Justice (12) + 5 (National Offender Management Service)
Metropolitan Police Service (10)
Foreign & Commonwealth Office (8)
Department for Culture Media and Sport (7)
Wakefield Metropolitan District Council (5)
Brighton & Hove City Council (3)
Buckinghamshire County Council (3)
Cambridge City Council (2)
Ferryhill Town Council (2)
Kent County Council (2)
Liverpool City Council (2)
London Borough of Bromley (2)
London Borough of Camden (2)
London Borough of Enfield (2)
London Borough of Islington (2)
Shotteswell Parish Council (2)
West Sussex County Council (2)
Winchester City Council (2)
Wokingham District Council (2)
Metropolitan Police Service (10)
Chief Constable Lancashire Constabulary (3)
Cambridgeshire Constabulary (2)
Chief Constable Greater Manchester Police (2)
Police Service of Northern Ireland (2)
National Policing Improvement Agency (2)
Newcastle College (2)
Oxford University (2)
Posted on April 29th, 2009 No comments
For those readers of FoINews who have been e-mailing me concerned at the future job prospects of the outgoing Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, I have good news.
The fall out over the Ministerial Veto has obviously been brushed over as Mr Thomas has been given a new job under the umbrella of the Ministry of Justice – and was appointed by the Jack Straw. No hard feelings there then.
When Mr Thomas leaves the hot seat at the Information Commissioner’s Office at the end of June he will hop into the top seat at the newly formed Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council.
Mr Thomas, who has been given a four-year appointment in the post, said: “The Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council has a key role in improving public justice – promoting confidence in the arrangements for resolving disputes between citizens and the public sector.
‘I am looking forward to taking up this role and carrying forward the excellent start which the Council has made under Lord Newton’s leadership.’
Posted on April 8th, 2009 No comments
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has received a public rebuke for what is described as a “catalogue of failings” in the way it deals with internal reviews.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has taken the unusual step of issuing a practice direction against the police force ordering it to sharpen up its act.
Details of the problems within the GMP’s Freedom of Information team are revealed in the ICO’s statement (link) in which the police blame lack of manpower, incorrect inputting, staff sickness, moving office and computer problems on its failure to stick to guidelines for dealing with internal appeals.
Posted on April 8th, 2009 No comments
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued a warning to public authorities to get their publication schemes in shape – or else.
A statement released from the ICO (link) says it will be monitoring websites of public authorities to check that they are complying with new guidelines on publication schemes which came into force on January 1. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on March 18th, 2009 No comments
The Information Commissioner’s office has released new guidance on how public bodies should deal with round-robin requests and questionnaires.
The guidance reminds authorities that such requests are legal under the Act and should be treated no differently from any other request.
It states that following the receipt of a questionnaire the person dealing with the request has a duty to identify which questions amounts to requests on information you hold and be prepared to offer advice and assistance.
However, the guidance does say that such a request can still be refused if it is deemed to breach the cost limits of seen to be “manifestly unreasonable”.