2 July 2009

Freedom of information regulator accused of excessive delays

by Rob Evans

Freedom of information campaigners say the regulator takes too long to decide to release documents to the public, undermining efforts to open up official files.

The public has to wait more than a year and a half on average before the information commissioner delivers a decision, according to figures. A decision about gun-related crime in Yorkshire took three years and 10 months.

The commissioner's staff take eight months on average before they even start investigating a complaint. One person waited nearly two years for the commissioner to begin an investigation into their complaint, concerning a refusal to release information about student loans.

Criticism by the Campaign for Freedom of Information is levelled mainly at Richard Thomas, who was information commissioner for seven years until last month. He has been replaced by Christopher Graham, the former director-general of the Advertising Standards Authority.

Maurice Frankel, the campaign's director, said the delays were "sufficiently serious and widespread to represent a major threat to the Freedom of Information Act's effectiveness and public confidence in it". He said: "A delay of two to three years or more in reaching a decision, as happens in over a quarter of cases means that even if the information is ultimately disclosed, it may no longer be of interest or use to the requester.

"Requesters ... may be so frustrated that they become reluctant to use the act again or to complain to the information commissioner about refusals."

The information commissioner's job is to promote the Freedom of Information Act and decide whether public bodies are entitled to keep requested information secret.

Last month, Thomas said a lot of information had been disclosed since the act came into force in 2005, adding that it was now "a permanent fixture and core part of the fabric of public life". He said the act's role in helping to get details of MPs' expenses published had "cemented FoI's reputation as a success story".

Delays highlighted by the campaigners include decisions about Foreign Office documents on the number of civilian deaths in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, and compensation payments to miscarriage of justice victims. The information commissioner has a backlog of 1,300 complaints from the public to resolve.

Last night, a spokesman for the information commissioner said he would continue to make improvements, but that more people were using freedom of information and so more complaints were being lodged.

He said the commissioner did not have enough funding. Government bodies are also frequently criticised for taking a long time to release documents.

in The Guardian

Extra Links:

http://www.access-info.org/ 

http://foia.blogspot.com/

5 comments:

  1. Freedom of information what a load of twaddle..Look at all the trouble The Telegraph went to to get us Freedom of Information with regards to the corrupt goverment and what happened ...Nothing.

    We will get any information if and when the goverment sees fit.


    How Daily Telegraph 'bunker' tackled MP expenses
    10 June 2009

    By Alison Battisby

    A small team of journalists working in a "bunker" based away from the main newsroom have been producing the Daily Telegraph's historic MPs expenses coverage, assistant editor Andrew Pierce has revealed.

    And with the revelations already having covered 240 broadsheet pages, there are still more to come according to Pierce. "They are still in the bunker, if that gives you a clue," he said.

    Speaking at a debate held at the Frontline Club in London, Pierce said of the Telegraph's expenses team: "They were working morning noon and night. Only a handful of people knew what was going to be in the newspaper the next day."

    Pierce described how the Telegraph team went through the data systematically, ensuring that they went through "the lot". He said: "I'm glad we did look at every single person."

    Describing how the Telegraph co-ordinated more than three weeks of front pages, he said: "We started with the cabinet, then the shadow big hitters and then husbands and wives, where we discovered the term flipping.

    "Then we discovered the accountancy fees which gave us extraordinary momentum."

    Pierce said the team was shocked to discover some of the items the MPs had been claiming for.

    "When the Daily Telegraph acquired this information, we had no comprehension of the level of abuses," he said.

    Pierce responded to the suggestion that the Daily Telegraph had been involved in a "bribe" to get the information, saying: "Fleet Street has survived on leaks for years."

    It is widely believed that the Telegraph paid through an intermediary for the details of MPs' expenses.


    On this point he said: "I've no idea if any money changed hands," adding wryly: "I assume it didn't".

    "We will stick to our guns at the Telegraph and not discuss whether money changed hands."

    Describing the way the Telegraph carried out the investigation as "proper old-fashioned journalism", he said: "It was spotting those fiddles and tracking down mortgages that didn’t exist.

    "It was proper old fashioned journalism at its finest", he said, adding that the work was "painstaking".

    Describing the public interest argument for the Telegraph obtaining and publishing the information about MPs' expenses, Pierce said: "If we hadn't put this in the public domain, if we'd relied on the House of Commons to publish these files they would have redacted, censored, Tipexed out and covered up.

    "We wouldn't have known the addresses of these second homes, we'd never have found out that Elliot Morley had had a phantom mortgage for 19 months, we'd never have found out that David Chaytor had a phantom mortgage for 15 months.

    "We would never have known that Conservative MP Andrew MacKay had claimed for a second home that didn't exist.

    "We wouldn't have known that Francis Maude, who is still in the shadow cabinet, that his second home, £24,000 a year tax-free, is a mile from his existing home.

    "It's an abuse of the system and it's so important that this is in the public domain which is why we have all three party leaders wedded to changing this system and why the Speaker of the House of Commons has been kicked out for the first time in 300 years.

    "All of that is in the public interest and makes it legitimate that the Telegraph got this information, however it did, and put it out there."




    IRONSIDE

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  2. It was proper old fashioned journalism at its finest", he said, adding that the work was "painstaking".


    xxxxxxxx


    He said the "J" word...shame they could not find some old fashioned journalism for madeleine.
    IRONSIDE

    ReplyDelete
  3. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1197224/Hundreds-men-wrongly-convicted-paedophiles-victims-identity-theft.html


    Operation ORE rears its ugly head again...No mention of Blair and his involvement in this you may notice...


    So much for Freedom of Information.....



    IRONSIDE

    ReplyDelete
  4. Joana, would you please check on Amaral and Paulo Sargento if that Semanario story is totally true?
    Would Amaral take the risk to talk that much about the blanket?
    He is not keeping any suprise for the trial against the Mccanns
    Did the PJ find fibres in that church?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Is there any official publication about the disappearence of the pink blanket?
    I never saw Amaral talking about this disappearence.
    I don't remember reading about this on his book.

    ReplyDelete