Campaign calls for parliamentary committee to investigate FOI

Dear Supporter

The Campaign has written to the chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee asking the Committee to investigate the role of the Cabinet Office in relation to the Freedom of Information Act and the wider problem of enforcement of the Act’s timeliness requirements.

The letter states:

“We understand that a number of organisations have written to you expressing concern about the FOI clearing house’s role in light of the First-tier Tribunal’s recent decision in Cabinet Office v ICO and Jenna Corderoy. We share that concern. We also think the requirement that departments consult the clearing house about sensitive FOI requests may contribute to the unacceptable delays experienced by many FOI requesters. We documented these in our recent evidence to the Committee’s Greensill inquiry.

The Corderoy decision highlighted significant failings by the Cabinet Office. It failed to correctly describe the contents of its ‘round robin’ lists, misleading its own minister, the Information Commissioner and the tribunal by suggesting the information was more sensitive than it actually was. It took eight months instead of 20 working days to carry out the required internal review and two and a half years to identify one of the exemptions it ultimately relied on. The tribunal has responded by effectively inviting the parties to apply for the Cabinet Office to be ordered to pay their legal costs. Such failings are not new – see: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40189828. It is a matter of concern that the Cabinet Office, which deals with its own requests so negligently, is responsible for advising other departments on their requests.

We hope the Committee will also examine the wider question of whether the Information Commissioner could do more to address the chronic delays that prevent the timely release of information. Although the ICO’s data protection role has been regularly examined by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, its FOI role has not been subject to parliamentary scrutiny since the Justice Committee’s post legislative scrutiny of the FOI Act in 2012.”

Read the full letter here.

Katherine Gundersen

Campaign for Freedom of Information