Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Commonwealth a popular club for Republics?

I sometimes get the feeling that one reason some people in the UK want to keep the monarchy is because of the Commonwealth. The Queen appears to offer us membership of a sort of international club who share a single head of state. Except they don't:

There are 54 member states, of these 16 have the Queen as head of state, 33 members are republics and 5 members have distinct monarchs:

Whilst many countries may feel it is advantageous to be seen to be part of the Commonwealth a majority of these have a Republican system of Government and others are likely to follow.

Monday, 21 December 2009

ICO comprehensively rejects royal secrecy exemptions

It is worth taking a closer look at a recent ICO ruling to see just how desperate the Government is to keep information about the Royal's secret.

The Government tried to use no less than eight separate exemptions to keep the information secret the ICO found that five of these exemptions were not relevant and two of the others should not have been used to withhold information. I have to concede that one of the exemptions was correctly applied but it related to less than 4% of the documents falling in the scope of the request.

Today is a good day for anyone who believes in transparency. The ICO has issued a polite yet damming ruling against the Governments attempt to protect the Royal Finances from scrutiny.

FOI requestors will be able to use the arguments in this Decision Notice to get more information about the Royal Family released more quickly.

The Government refused to disclose the information under:

  1. FOI section 21: Information Accessible By Other Means [relevant, applied to just four out of more than 100 documents]

  2. FOI section 31: Law Enforcement [not relevant]

  3. FOI section 36: Prejudice To Effective Conduct Of Public Affairs [relevant but public interest was still in favour of disclosure]

  4. FOI section 37: Communications With Her Majesty, With Other Members Of The Royal Household, And The Conferring By The Crown Of Any Honour Or Dignity [relevant but public interest was still in favour of disclosure]

  5. FOI section 38: Health And Safety [not relevant]

  6. FOI section 43: Commercial Interests [not relevant]

  7. EIR reg 12(5)(d): Confidentiality of the Proceedings [not relevant]

  8. EIR reg 12 (5)(f):Adverse impact on the interests of the person who provided the information [not relevant]

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Three Cheers for the Chairman of the House of Commons justice committee

"The chairman of the House of Commons justice committee, which scrutinises secrecy laws, called for the disclosure of recent letters from the prince to cabinet ministers including Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, on subjects thought to range from the standard of primary school education to the design of ecotowns."

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

all title and no mandate

"email me whenever Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith speaks."

A message from 13 May 1975

"To ask for information about the Duchy of Lancaster and still more about the Duchy of Cornwall is like trying to get information from the KGB."

Mr Willie Hamilton MP 13 May 1975

Monday, 7 December 2009

Pilot questions

Recently, I have found that I need to get some background information in order to support my arguments to get information.

Continuous ring- no answer

A recent response to my FOI request to the Department for Work and Pensions revealed that public funds have been used to pay for lots of phone numbers that don't actually work for various reasons. The release appears to have party accidental. It looks like about 130 phone numbers that don't work were identified as needing to be cancelled.

Apologies if you don't like the formatting of the data that follows, I exported it to csv from an Excel file. The phone numbers listed omit the first zero.

Inbound Number Status Confirmed BU Description

800125122,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
800137625,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
800160709,Immediate Closure,JCP,"Stanford Jobcentre-they know it as a local number, no longer use 0800"
800181847,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
800212159,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
800212537,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP Barrow Switchboard - no longer use 0800
800212539,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP Cumbria Switchboard - no longer use 0800
800243640,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
800252438,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
800252991,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
800262652,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
800393949,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
800435499,Immediate Closure,JCP,This service is only available to Unemployed people in the Saffron Walden area - contact number given (local number not 08 number)
800441144,Immediate Closure,DCS,"Recorded message for BEL, advisory service for disabled, sick or carers. Number no longer in use. 0800882200"
800454938,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
800515923,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP - Paisley - no longer uses 0800
800592339,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
800614243,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
800626289,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
800838276,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
800854691,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
800919110,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000234338,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000280206,Immediate Closure,JCP,Number not in use
8000282042,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Not DWP
8000282105,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP Dunoon - no longer uses 0800
8000282107,Immediate Closure,JCP,Continuous ring- no answer
8000320043,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000320525,Immediate Closure,JCP,"Newcastle. Used to belong to BTW Team which has now been disbanded. Calls are still answered by any staff, but number no longer given out to cust."
8000321181,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000323898,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Message - please enter your ID number followed by the hash key.
8000325884,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Message - please enter your ID number followed by the hash key.
8000326006,Immediate Closure,JCP,Employer Suite. Birmingham Broad Street. They are unaware of any 0800 numbers in use by them
8000326371,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Message - please enter your ID number followed by the hash key.
8000326372,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Message - please enter your ID number followed by the hash key.
8000327953,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP-Unallocated following benefit centre restructuring - number not recognised
8000327954,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
8000328340,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP-Unallocated following benefit centre restructuring
8000328348,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP-Unallocated following benefit centre restructuring
8000328353,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP-Unallocated following benefit centre restructuring
8000328354,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP-Unallocated following benefit centre restructuring
8000328357,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP-Unallocated following benefit centre restructuring
8000328358,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP-Unallocated following benefit centre restructuring
8000328359,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP-Unallocated following benefit centre restructuring
8000328361,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
8000328362,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP-Unallocated following benefit centre restructuring
8000328364,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP-Unallocated following benefit centre restructuring
8000328372,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP-Unallocated following benefit centre restructuring
8000328555,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000850320,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000850331,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000851465,Immediate Closure,JCP,"Emergency Out Of Hours telephony service line - Chesterfield Jobcentre New Deal Team, not aware of 0800 numbers."
8000854086,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000854216,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000855092,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000855140,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000855597,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
8000856927,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous busy tone
8000857113,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927035,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927104,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927107,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927110,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927309,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927502,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927505,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927506,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927508,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927509,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927510,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927601,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927602,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927603,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927604,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927605,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927607,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927608,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927609,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8000927610,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
8001216217,Immediate Closure,JCP,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8001216458,Immediate Closure,DM,"Debt Centre in Wales - advised that this number to be closed, number no longer needed"
8001412218,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous busy tone
8001412591,Immediate Closure,JCP,Christmas bonus 2008/09. If pymnt not recv'dby Mar'09 contact local office
8001412761,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8001412767,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
8001691970,Immediate Closure,JCP,Crisis Loans - Number changed to 0845 608 8649. For living expenses only call 0800 169 9891
8003280247,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8003280857,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8003281730,Immediate Closure,Unknown,"JCP - Eastleigh, Hampshire - 0800 forwarded onto back of house number - Number not used by public"
8003281738,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8003283834,Immediate Closure,JCP,Jobcentre Crisis Loan Advice - phoneline.The number you have dialled has changed please redial using 0800 587 6716
8003285176,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8003286880,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
8003289758,Immediate Closure,JCP,"Ramsgate BDC.Answered by 01843 number, user not aware of any 0800 numbers in use"
8003890441,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
8003896895,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8003897036,Immediate Closure,JCP,Hello the Broker Service? Wales finished on 28th March contact your local Job Centre for advice
8005870060,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8005870553,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8005872314,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8005877456,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8005877457,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8005878749,Immediate Closure,PDCS,Message - Pension service message please enter the pin number you have been provided
8005878923,Immediate Closure,PDCS,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8005878925,Immediate Closure,PDCS,"TPS confirmed number, no longer required"
8005879135,Immediate Closure,JCP,This number is no longer available for Crisis Loan dial 0800 328 3036 or Social Fund on 0845 608 8629
8007310573,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
8007312120,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8007312399,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
8007312536,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
8007312561,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
8007313736,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8007313930,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8007316789,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Not DWP
8007319671,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8007830253,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP - Wolverhampton - number forwarded onto front of house
8007831080,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8007832119,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8007834063,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8007836030,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8007838014,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8007838216,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP - Business Support back of house - 0800 number forwarded onto 01928853795
8007838223,Immediate Closure,Unknown,Continuous ring- no answer
8007838258,Immediate Closure,JCP,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8007839241,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8007839619,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8007839870,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8009171741,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8009171765,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8009174160,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8009174169,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8009174700,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8009174772,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8009174774,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8009176069,Immediate Closure,Unknown,The number you have dialled is not recognised
8005878924,Immediate Closure,PDCS,Fax
8000286569,Immediate Closure,JCP,JCP - Bulwell - no longer uses 0800
8007836157,Immediate Closure,PDCS,"PDCS TPS ~ 4 Options ~ Chase Claim already made, PC New Claims, Change in Circs, other"
8007836193,Immediate Closure,PDCS,"PDCS TPS ~ 4 Options ~ Chase Claim already made, PC New Claims, Change in Circs, other"
8005876712,Immediate Closure,PDCS,PDCS TPS PC New Claims Line

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee

I have found out today thanks to Wikipedia about a committee that I can't imagine many people know about.

"The subject of the Convention goes to the heart of the relationship between people and governments. The Convention is not only an environmental agreement, it is also a Convention about government accountability, transparency and responsiveness." Source: UNECE

"All good stuff" I hear you say "...but this is a body formed by international agreement, they won't return my calls".

But that is what is really interesting is that unlike most (all other?) international treaties the compliance mechanism can be triggered by members of the public:

"The compliance mechanism may be triggered in four ways:
(4) members of the public may make communications concerning a Party's compliance with the convention."
Source: UNECE

When to contact the Committee

"In considering any communication from the public, the Compliance Committee will take into account the extent to which any domestic remedy (i.e. review or appeals process) was available to the person making the communication, except where such a remedy would have been unreasonably prolonged or inadequate. Before making a communication to the Committee, the member of the public should consider whether the problem could be resolved by using such appeals mechanisms."
Source: UNECE

In the UK it is fairly easy to appeal to the ICO although some cases take a long time to resolve so an argument could be made that it might be appropriate to communicate to the Committee. Also if the ICO will not accept that an authority is subject to the Environmental Information Regulations the ICO cannot issue a decision notice and thus no appeal can be made to the Information Tribunal. A judicial review might be considered an "unreasonably prolonged and inadequate remedy", in fact someone has already made that argument an they have put it better than I ever could:

"Road Sense maintains that the Judicial Review process is so difficult and expensive for individuals or small associations to pursue in Scotland that it prejudices the ability of a non-governmental body to challenge decisions taken, perhaps unlawfully, by the Scottish Government"
Source: UNECE and someone else has written a very detailed communication about why the UK's judicial review process is inadequate for the purposes of the convention.

Applicability to Duchy of Lancaster case
I am keeping all my options open for the Duchy of Lancaster appeal but I am still hopeful that the ICO will make the right ruling in the first place.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The LMU Student Data Question

"Peter Bottomley (Worthing West): To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, with reference to the KPMG Report to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) reviewing lessons learned from the London Metropolitan University case,

 (a) whether
     (i) KMPG,
     (ii) HEFCE and
     (iii) his Department

has seen in full the BDO Stoy Hayward review of London Metropolitan University's approach to student records and the level of accuracy of its student-data completions;

 (b) how much money has been
     (A) repaid to HEFCE by the university and
     (B) withheld by HEFCE from the university in relation to the matter and

 (c) whether the Secretary of State has been informed of active or dormant legal restraints on making public
     (1) the BDO Stoy Hayward review and
     (2) the redacted parts of the KPMG review."

Written Questions for Answer on Monday 30 November 2009 - Question 5 (303384)

Section 15 of the Defamation Act 1996 gives qualified privilege to "A fair and accurate report of proceedings in public of a legislature anywhere in the world", which includes the United Kingdom Parliament. This means that provided a statement is made without malice defamation proceedings will not succeed provided the publisher does not refuse a request 'to publish in a suitable manner a reasonable letter or statement by way of explanation or contradiction'.

The quote is taken the website but I have added line breaks and indentation where appropriate and made similar formatting changes.

ICO write to Duchy of Lancaster

"I can inform you that I have now written to the Duchy of Lancaster to obtain their submissions where the Commissioner requires further information in order to consider whether it constitutes a public authority under the Environmental Information Regulations."

email received 2 December 2009

Monday, 30 November 2009

Duchy case under active consideration

I am pleased to report that the ICO is actively considering the Duchy of Lancaster case. Recently I have been contacted by several people about this case and I think it is right that I keep interested parties updated. I do not want to go into too much detail as it might not help the case.

Today (30 November 2009), I receive an update from the ICO and it prompted me to write back quoting the Defra guidance on the coverage of the Environmental Information Regulations:

"2.23 The Regulations do not apply to any public authority when it is acting in a judicial or legislative capacity. This derives from the provision in the Aarhus Convention that the definition of public authority “does not include bodies or institutions acting in a judicial or legislative capacity”.

For example, Magistrates Courts, Criminal Courts, Coroners and other courts or tribunals, the Council for Racial Equality, Ombudsman, Rent Assessment Panels, Licensing Panels, and Social Services Complaints Panels all carry out judicial or legislative functions. These public authorities are, however, public authorities for the purpose of these regulations to the extent that they carry out other functions, such as the management of their own estate and operations.""

I am very grateful to the ICO official assigned to my case for his detailed consideration of the issues.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

ICO will make a formal statement on status of Duchy

For those of you that have been following the Duchy of Lancaster Saga I have a brief update.

"Therefore depending on the verdict, you will receive either:

(1) A much more detailed letter explaining the Commissioner’s view that the Duchy is not a public authority under the Regulations. This verdict can be challenged by judicial review.

(2) A Decision Notice explaining that the Duchy of Lancaster is caught by the EIR and that it must process your request. This can be challenged by either side to the Information Tribunal."

Email from Information Commissioner's Office dated 26 November 2009.

Although I am eager to get a decision and the wait can be frustrating, I want to point out that the ICO staff are being very helpful in progressing my case and they appear committed to applying the law correctly to the facts of the case:

"As you are aware (and as your submissions demonstrate) there are a large number of factors that are relevant in this case and all must be considered by me as case officer. I must obtain the facts and apply the law to those facts."

How to beat the Section 21 Exemption

Section 21 is intended to apply to information that is already reasonably accessible to the applicant, e.g documents published on the internet or in books available to your local library.

Unfortunately, some public authorities are using where the information can be obtained by making a very large number of queries to locator tools.

For example in theory it is possible to obtain the phone numbers of all tax offices using the locator tool on the HMRC website. In practice it is very difficult to find the number for every office and even when you think you might have found them all it would be difficult to be sure that you really have.

I had requested a list of phone numbers and HMRC are trying to use this exemption. I could try entering the name of every town in the UK into the "Enter town" field but I am not sure there is a definitive list of UK towns and even if there was I don't think 'Birmingham' would be on it but there is an entry when you search for Birmingham.

There is however what amounts to a definitive list of UK postcodes so in theory I could conduct a exhaustive search for tax offices, but according to UK National Statistics website there are somewhere around 1.7 million live postcodes so it be wholly impractical to search for each of these one at a time.

The exemption was never intended to be used in situations like this so I have sent HMRC a robust request for an internal review.

I have pointed out that in this case: "information not to be regarded as reasonably accessible to the applicant merely because the information is available from the public authority
itself on request, unless the information is made available in accordance with the authority’s publication scheme

I have argued that information that can only be obtained by making a query using the locator tool is only available on request albeit that the database is set up to automatically respond to such requests. As HMRC do not refer to the locator in their publication scheme I argued that the exemption could not be relied upon.

I also wrote:

"I calculate that by manually testing one postcode every two seconds it would take me more than 40 days to test all the postcodes even if I worked 24 hours a day and seven days a week with no breaks. This cannot be considered reasonably accessible.

I hope the Revenue will accept on reflection that the data should be provided to me in a form I can reasonably use, it was certainly the intention of the Act that I would be able to obtain information of this nature.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

How to get data released in electronic form

A lot of people who make FOI requests like to get the data in electronic form and I include myself in that.

Often public authorities are reluctant to provide the information in electronic form perhaps because they would rather it was not republished or perhaps because it is a bit more work (in the short-term). Requesters often quote section 11 of the Act:

"Where, on making his request for information, the applicant expresses a preference for communication by any one or more of the following means, namely—...the provision to the applicant of a copy of the information in permanent form or in another form acceptable to the applicant,...the public authority shall so far as reasonably practicable give effect to that preference."

These leaves open the possibility of the public authority arguing that it is not reasonably practicable.

I actually think that it is better to only provide an email address and refuse to provide a postal address. You may need to remind the public authority that you have submitted a valid request for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act and that they have a duty under Section 1 to supply you with the information requested. This leaves them with no real option but to reply electronically.

Martin Rosenbaum wrote recently published Devolution tensions exposed on the BBC Open Secrets blog:

"I asked the Scotland Office for this material after the commissioner's judgment was announced. They only agreed to send me hard copies, but someone else has managed to get them to post electronic versions at the FOI site What Do They Know."

The link was to a response from the Scotland Office I had received where I had simply refused to provide a postal address.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

a right royal tax break

If you look at this response to a Freedom of Information Act request about the tax status of the Royal Family you can see that some of the information has been redacted...

but the authority that responded to the request made a mistake, so when you highlight the paragraph you can read the text they didn't want you to know about:

You can click on either of these pictures to see a larger image. You can also read the original document - to read the redacted text just highlight the relevant paragraphs with your mouse.

The hidden text exposes the fact that Prince Charles was secretly lobbying to get the rules changed so he could pay less tax.

Hidden text

The hidden text is in red below:

"The suggested amendments are two-fold – one a matter of mechanics to do with Self Assessment and one of substance to do with expenditure met by HRH The Prince of Wales on official engagements carried out by Their Royal Highnesses The Princes William and Harry. Sir Michael Peat, The Prince of Wales’ Principal Private Secretary, has written to Dave Hartnett asking HMRC to consider amending the MOU to recognise this expenditure."

[MOU stands for 'Memorandum of Understanding' - which sets out the basis on which the Queen and Prince Charles pay tax.]

"But, as Sir Michael’s letter sets out, the Princes will increasingly incur expenditure when undertaking engagements on behalf of The Queen."

"The question of official expenditure by The Princes is not a big issue now, given their other duties. But from next year, it is expected that HRH The Prince William will spend a significant part of his time on official engagements and we need to put the necessary provisions in place in anticipation of that."

Sunday, 8 November 2009

One Expensive Post Office

I am normally strongly against Post Office closures as I think the closure of a Post Office can contribute to the isolation of communities and of individuals. We all have to recognise though that providing a Post Office costs money and the money has to come from somewhere.

I have recently obtained figures from the Royal Mail Group about the cost of running the Court Post Office at Buckingham Palace. The cost is paid for by Grants-in-Aid from Government Departments i.e. the tax payer.

The total cost for the year 2008-2009 was over £560,000. The postage cost was just under £255,000 while staffing costs exceeded £260,000, the remainder consisted of administration, travel and equipment costs. At a time when the public sector is looking to make savings and get the best value for the tax payer, it is amazing that the Court Post Office is still open. The postage cost would be similar whether or not the branch remained open but other costs would be drastically reduced. I estimate that the closure of the Royal Post Office could save the tax payer in the region of £260,000 to £300,000 a year.

Let' put that saving into context, it would cost £180,000 to keep around 10 rural branches open at a cost of £18,000 per branch. Think of the difference that would make to those communities.

In March 2008, Pat McFadden said "the average cost to Post Office Ltd of post offices that are scheduled for closure is £18,000 per branch per year. If one is saved, therefore, the Post Office must find that saving somewhere else."[1]

Pat McFadden was at the time the Minister of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs.[2]

Sunday, 1 November 2009

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to support a change to the law to make Local Safeguarding Children Boards subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000."

Sign this petition on the Prime Minister's website

Safeguarding children is one of the most important functions that local and central government performs. It is vital that they get it right and we will only know they are getting it right if there is transparency.

The core membership of Local Safeguarding Children Boards is set out in the Children Act 2004, and includes Local Authorities, health bodies, the police and others.

Police forces, local authorities, state schools and NHS trusts are already subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 but Local Safeguarding Children Boards are not subject to the Act. The law needs to be changed Boards are subject to the Act. The Government can very easily add public bodies to the Freedom of Information Act using powers it already has under Sections 4 and 5 of the Act.

Transparency and accountability will improve the quality of care and protection that children receive

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

ICO will look into Duchy EIR case again

A while ago now I appealed to the ICO and made the case that the Duchy of Lancaster is a public authority for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations.

The ICO essentially said that the Duchy was a private estate and not a public authority but I asked them to look again and to their credit they did and the case has been re-opened:

"I am grateful for the arguments submitted and the issue has been the cause of much debate. In short, I have decided to re-open the case and complete a more thorough examination of the facts presented. This does not necessarily represent a change of outcome, but simply an opportunity to re-evaluate the issue as a whole, as I felt that a simple case review on my part would not have done the matter justice."

I have also found out that the Duchy of Lancaster itself is not registered but the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is listed (see It would appear that a Government Minister is the data controller for all of the Duchy of Lancaster's activities. It would be impossible to act as data controller for all the personal data of tenants without also controlling at least some 'environmental information' about land and buildings. This adds weight to my case that Duchy data is data held by a public authority.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Electoral Register Data - FOI request

I searched the public register of Data Controllers to see which Electoral Registration Officers were
registered for London Boroughs. Using various combinations of search terms including searches by place names I found that for 27 London Boroughs the Electoral Registration Officer had registered
(separately) as a Data Controller. I could not find any evidence that the Electoral Registration Officers for Bexley, Hackney, Haringey, Hounslow, Lambeth, Southwark were registered as Data
Controllers. Perhaps the ICO shed some light on this.

Request: Electoral Registration Officers

Friday, 9 October 2009

does the disclaimer help?

"I am pleased to enclose the following information, which I believe satisfies your request:

15 of our front line enquiry staff hold a professional qualification in
Librarianship or Information Science

You may reuse all or part of his information free of charge in any
format or medium. You must reuse it accurately and not in a misleading

Essex County Council

How could I reuse this inaccurately? I suppose I could say that 20 of their inquiry staff hold a professional qualification in Librarianship or Information Science but then I would not really be using the information at all.

My message to public authorities is stop and think before you use a disclaimer.

Monday, 5 October 2009

news just in - democratic accountability still exists in the UK

There is a really good blog post on this ruling that I could not hope to match but I will quote from the ruling:

"..the 1998 Act enables an interested party to inspect and copy certain documents related to the accounts of the Council. It does not create the type of general free-standing right of access to information as conferred by modern information rights legislation. Its history lies in democratic accountability, rather than the policy of transparency and openness behind the modern legislation. But in my view, as a matter of legal analysis, section 15(1) applies in this case, notwithstanding Veolia's contention that this will lead to a breach of commercial confidentiality. ... In the result Mr Dowen is entitled to inspect and copy these documents."

(my emphasis)

Friday, 18 September 2009

24 Hour Off Licences - locations released under FOI

Waltham Forest Council releases full addresses including post codes for 24Hr Off Licences.

Waltham Forest - response

Could this data be integrated into Open Street Map or a similar mapping project?

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Royal Communications Petition

A good petition to sign:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to change the Freedom of Information Act so that the royal house hold and communications between the household and government are no longer exempt"

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Public bodies shutting down their email

In March 2009 the UK Borders Agency effectively shut down their email system because they were too busy to answer enquiries.

"We regret that, due to unusually high demand for this service during recent weeks, we are currently unable to provide individual, personalised responses to new enquiries."

More recently HMRC's Child Benefit email service seems to be unavailable:

"Our email service is temporarily unavailable and your message has not been read by an advisor."

I hope this practice stops and does not become a habit. When I go to supermarkets an the store is busier than usual they open more tills - they don't close the store.

Thanks to Richard Taylor for an email he sent raising both issues that prompted me to write this blog post.

Friday, 11 September 2009

HMRC release a geographic phone number

For many people it is cheaper to call a geographic phone number (it depends on your tarriff).

So Government Departments can help citizens and small businesses save money in a recession just be publishing lists of numbers.

"The geographical number for the Self Assessment/PAYE DMB 0845 366 7816 telephone
number is 01506 476 066."

"The geographical number for the Self Assessment card payments 0845 305 1000 telephone
number is 01726 209 025"

See: HMRC response

See also:

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Do your bit to get more choice for voters

If preferential voting is combined with multi-member constituencies, voters can choose between different official candidates of the same party.

This will increase voter choice and improve accountability.

Please sign the petition: voter choice

once you have done that why not register on STV Action?

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Wine paid for by the tax payer

Government Hospitality Advisory Committee for the Purchase of Wine publish a partial list of the wines you paid for.

They do point out that:

"A demonstration of the level of value for money that the cellar can provide occurred recently over the wines used at the London Summit in April. You may have seen some coverage in the media indicating that the government used £1400 worth of wine at the 8 official dinners and lunches organised on 1 and 2 April. We calculate that, at a conservative valuation, it would not have been possible to acquire those wines directly in the London wine market for less than £6 000, more than four times the actual cost to the taxpayer."

I am not sure whether buying wine is a good use of tax payers money or not maybe foreign diplomats etc will expect it and the UK will lose out somehow if it is not there but I do feel we need the full facts. Clearly, some wines are a lot cheaper than others so I feel further cost savings could potentially be identified if only we had the full facts.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Just a quote

"Mr Swain complained to the Commissioner on 18 July 2006. Regrettably, there then followed a period of 22 months’ delay during which, so far as we can tell, the Commissioner took no steps to fulfil his statutory duty under FOIA s50. His investigation only commenced on 16 May 2008. We are not in a position to say, and it is not for us to decide, to what extent that inordinate delay was due to lack of resources, or to deficiencies in the Commissioner’s systems of internal management, or to a mixture of those or indeed other causes. What is clear is that the volume of complaints to
the Commissioner has been much higher than was predicted and, in cases where information ought to have been disclosed by the public authority, long delays in the commencement or conduct of the Commissioner’s investigations tend to frustrate the purpose of the Act and deny to the
public the rights which the Act has created."

Thursday, 16 July 2009


"The government has also published its response to the consultation on extending the Freedom of Information Act. The government's response reflects the considerable support for extending the Act. A further consultation will now be undertaken with those proposed for inclusion within the scope of the Act: Academies, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)."

Source: Ministry of Justice

"The Government is attracted to bringing such utilities within the Act. While it does not propose to include utilities in the first section 5 order, it will carry out further consultation with the
bodies concerned"

My academies petition

Had to laugh at the suggestion someone made to the consultation that CFOI should be added!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Privy Council Orders tag cloud

medical chartered society institution engineers university further higher education scotland royal great britain reform leeds opticians city london institute physics united nations manchester science technology ministerial appointment alderney british burial child abduction custody church commissioners consular fees european communities extradition law general council guernsey jersey college oxford northern ireland order reference privy counsellor queen sark social security administration health service naval marine pay pensions proclamation justice management films coinage orders income corporation taxes national patents pharmacy designs universities cambridge wales association accountants actuaries veterinary surgeons poisons civil england ministers crown public company parliamentary swansea air aviation fund finance accountancy surveyors settlements medicine school forces broadcasting criminal academy appointments engineering pharmaceutical international organisations merchant shipping supplementary reading local government benevolent dentists professions birmingham sheffield architects inspections nursing hull marriages osteopaths chiropractors channel islands midwifery helena financial dealings counsellors island section tag cloud

Where is the data from? the data was released by the Privy Council Office under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (request made through The "OrderName" field gives the subject area of each order, this column was the initial data set. The words "Act", "Measure" etc and all numbers were removed from the initial data set. What is left is considered a reasonable illustration of what the Privy Council make orders about.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

DWP is letting down people on benefits

The Department for Work and Pensions have no geographic numbers an that means benefit claimants an potential claimants will have to pay more to call them on 0845 numbers. This is especially unfair as a proportion of the calls are likely to relate to errors made by the Department.

I do welcome the fact that the number for crisis is an 0800 number but many people in real financial difficulties may be trying to call using mobiles and on some networks 0800 calls are very expensive. I would urge the DWP to ensure they can provide a geographic alternative to all non-geographic numbers to make life just a little easier for people who have lost their jobs during the recession.

Request for telephone numbers

Monday, 6 July 2009

ICO release Data Protection Register details

"...I am upholding the original decision, and we will not be supplying you with a copy of the full Register. Instead, as you are aware, you will be able to access it via our website.

However I fully understand the frustration expressed in your recent email as a result of our handling of your original request. In view of this I have decided to send you a file which includes the registration numbers of all organisations currently registered with us. In order to access the
organisations’ details you will need to cut and paste each registration number into the search facility on the Register, this will return the full details for that organisation."

I welcome this disclosure it is a small step towards increase transparency but I really don't see why they could not have released much more.

ICO response

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Speaker Election Nomination Forms

Interesting FOI request to get the nominations forms for the Speaker Election.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Public want disclosure of royal finances

"62% of people want details of the royal family’s public spending to be fully available. "

Friday, 19 June 2009

What price would you pay to let UK citizens know the law they are subject to?

The Privy Council has refused to provide me with a list of all the Orders of the Privy Council which are part of UK law. I was not even asking for the Orders themselves I just requested a list.

The Privy Council refused on cost grounds.

It would in theory be possible for me to construct my own list by:

(a) visiting the National Archives
(b) visiting the National Library
(c) pursuing my Freedom of Information request restricted to Orders from 1994 onwards

I will certainly be doing (c).

I think there are three general problems here with the British democratic system that need to be resolved:

(1) law is being made by unaccountable bodies and through the exercise of Royal Prerogative by-passing elected law-makers in the House of Commons

(2) the law is not being published in full and in an accessible form

(3) the Freedom of Information Act contains a cost exemption The limit is £600 for central government and Parliament and £450 for other public authorities. It sometimes feels like public authorities know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. There needs to be a mechanism to challenge the cost exemption where the public interests justifies the cost of disclosure.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Freedom of Redaction Act - what the House of Commons won't release

I can't believe some of the redaction that has been going on. We are not allowed to know that this MPs on the TV Licence fee receipt the logo of TV Licensing had been removed. Why?

As far as I know only one organisation in the UK can issue TV Licenses did they not think we could figure it out?

one MPs Additional Cost Allowance Claim

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Is the Students Loan Company misleading people?

I believe this claim in their "A Guide Terms and Conditions" is misleading:

"however long it takes you to repay your loan you will pay no more, in real terms than, you actually borrowed"

This could only be a true if the amount owed was reduced when inflation was negative. I may be wrong but I do not believe that to be the case.

A student could in theory be paying back their student loan at age 64 having left university at 24 a lot can happen to the economy in 40 years, a lot has happened in the last two years!

The explanation of the terms and conditions should not give a one-sided view of what might happen to the economy when describing a financial product.

I know people can read the full terms and conditions but the guidance should be a fair summary.

I have complained to the ASA in case there is anything they can do to clear this up:

Friday, 12 June 2009

Royals secret lobbying for better tax treatment of expenses?

In theTreasury's response to a Freedom of Information Act they tried to redact some text using black highlighting but if you select the text you can read it!

That's what I call Freedom of Information!

We now know that: "Sir Michael Peat, The Prince of Wales’ Principal Private Secretary, has written to Dave Hartnett asking HMRC to consider amending the MOU to recognise this expenditure."

[meaning expenditure met by HRH The Prince of Wales on official engagements carried out by Their Royal Highnesses The Princes William and Harry.]

So all this private correspondence is not just for the benefit of the British Constitution and the National Interest at least some of it appears to be about the financial interests of one family.

But how much influence to the Royals have, did they get their own way? ...

"In a little-noticed supplementary document to the Budget, Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, announced that the taxpayer would pick up the cost of running an office recently created to support Princes William and Harry."

Source of quote: Telegraph

Thursday, 11 June 2009

don't let the Government get away with it

Don't let the Government get away with taking your freedom of information rights away just when they are starting to make a difference. They want to make it harder for you to get information about the cabinet and about royals.

If anything we need more and better rights not less.

Join this group now and help to stop them

"Cabinet papers will be released much earlier than under the current rule, but will be subject to an absolute exemption under the Act until they are 20 years old."

"To ensure the constitutional position and political impartiality of the Monarchy is not undermined, the relevant exemption in the Freedom of Information Act will be made absolute for information relating to communications with the Royal Household that is less than 20 years' old. After that ... the exemption will continue to apply until five years after their death"

Source: BBC

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Birmingham Mail runs story based on FOI request

Birmingham City Council spent £53,000 on bottled water

The original FOI request I made is here:

Clerk of Parliament's expenses

I finally got a response from the House of Commons to my request for an internal review. The House in effect conceded that its original interpretation of the law was wrong and agreed to provide the information I had asked for. It seems strange to win an argument with a branch of the legislature on a point of law.

I did find out that the Clerk has been shopping at the Majestic Wine Warehouse, including (it would appear) purchasing 12 bottles of De Telmont Grande Reserve Champagne in January and 24 more in February.

I expect that the bottles were purchased for an event of some sort but it seems a bit excessive to be regularly buying Champagne at tax payers' expense.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Referendum 2010

More details here:

Referendum 2010

"Our message is simple and strong: real change, not just new faces. An end to safe seats and seeming jobs for life for some MPs. Remove the power that MPs have to decide how they are elected ... and give that to the voters instead. Bring in greater accountability for those who represent us; and greater choice at the ballot box in the first place."

Create an email alert for Referendum 2010

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Please Vote in Euro Elections

This is a request to my reader(s) to use his/her/their vote in the European Elections (assuming eligibility).

It is perhaps worth reminding people just who can vote in UK Elections.


Below is a full list of Commonwealth and European Union countries. If you are a citizen of one of these countries, and resident in the UK, you are eligible to register to vote in UK elections. To qualify, Commonwealth citizens must be resident in the UK and either have leave to remain in the UK or not require such leave. The definition of a 'Commonwealth citizen' includes citizens of British Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories.

European Union countries

Czech Republic
United Kingdom

Commonwealth countries

Antigua and Barbuda
The Bahamas
Brunei Darussalam
Fiji Islands
The Gambia
New Zealand
Papua New Guinea
St Kitts & Nevis
St Lucia
St Vincent & The Grenadines
Sierra Leone
Solomon Islands
South Africa
Sri Lanka
United Republic of Tanzania
Trinidad & Tobago
United Kingdom

Also check out

Friday, 22 May 2009

A good use of FOI

No particular big story here, just a responsible and sensible use of Freedom of Information and the Act working as it should.

The Board Members' Handbook for the Architects Registration Board has been released.

response re board members handbook

Sunday, 10 May 2009

ICO wants improvements to 6 publication schemes

"I can confirm that 6 authorities’ have been contacted in writing between 1
January 2009 and 8 April 2009 to inform them that we wish them to make
improvements to their publication schemes as part of enforcement cases.
These authorities are Staffordshire Primary Care Trust, Royal Mail,
Lancashire Constabulary, South Wales Police, Northern Ireland Legal Services
Commission and the City and County of Swansea. In addition, the issue was
raised verbally with Leeds City Council on 1 April 2009 and mentioned in a
presentation given to the Metropolitan Police on 9 March 2009." - ICO response

Pleased to see the ICO using its powers, I have seen some bad publication schemes. Personally, I think public authorities with websites should be required to publish them online.

91% support full disclosure on expenses

"91% said they wanted expenses records to be published in full straight away."

This shows just how out of touch some public authorities are when they turn down FOI requests for no good reason.

The law really needs to be strengthened to reduce the scope for misusing exemptions and speed up the complaints process.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

a healthy environment should be a constitutional right for UK citizens

France made this happen in 2004:
"A charter for the environment which makes a healthy environment a
constitutional right for French citizens has passed a key hurdle with
approval by the parliament on Tuesday by 328 votes to 10."

I am not about to suggest that France's behaviour towards the
environment has been perfect ever since or that we should simply
translate the French Charter. What I am saying is that all
legislation and Government activity that has a damaging effect on the
environment should be subject to challenge and that the environment
should enjoy strong constitutional protections.

Once this was passed legislation would be drafted so as to be
compatible with these principles.

Although there is no one document in a glass case that anyone can
point to and say this is the UK Constitution - we do have a
constitution and it does have written sources e.g. Parliament Act
1911, European Communities Act 1972, Act of Settlement 1701

I think this change would be hard to achieve...

What do you think?

[based on a post I made to a Serious Change Google Group]

Good news - thanks to ORG

"The debates on the Telecoms Package, thanks to a remarkable citizen mobilization, led to an extremely strong recognition of the access to internet as a fundamental right with the re-adoption of amendment 138/46 in second reading by a qualified majority."

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Public money wasted on bottled water?

"Answer: The City of Edinburgh Council spent £10,626.04 on bottled water from January 2008 to December 2008."

Monday, 27 April 2009

Duchy of Lancaster - FOI petition

You must know the drill by now, sign the petition to try to get the Duchy added to the Freedom of Information Act:

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Lobbying letter

look what I found at the National Archives...

"Dear Private Secretary
The Prime Minister wishes ministers to be reminded that they should never admit the existence of arrangements by which Ministers meet Lobby Correspondents..."

[November 27, 1964]

Photograph of Lobbying Letter in Google Groups

The House of Commons needs to get its act together on FOI

The House of Commons just does not seem to grasp "Freedom of Information", they refused to provide me with copies of documents on the grounds they were not information despite an ICO Decision Notice that clearly indicates that this approach is wrong:

Paragraph 18 of the ICO Decision notice FS50076355 states that:

"Defra has advised the Commissioner that public authorities are
only required to release information, not documents. Consequently,
it believes that to provide a summary is adequate. The Commissioner
does not accept this view. The Act provides a right of access to
recorded information held by a public authority. This will normally
be fulfilled through access to existing documents or electronic
media, though in some cases the information can, or should, be
disclosed through other means. The Commissioner’s approach is
consistent with paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Notes to the Act
which states that the Act provides access to documents, or copies
of documents as well as to information."

The House of Commons has now missed its own deadline for dealing with my complaint. Yes this is a rant and yes I am angry about this.

Monday, 13 April 2009

prisoners and the right to vote

For the record I am in favour of votes for prisoners but I don't think the vote of a convicted prisoner should ever count for more than my vote. Here is question 13 of the Government's consultation on prisoners' voting rights.

Question 13. Do you have any other comments and suggestions on the proposals for implementing the Hirst (No. 2) judgment?

[in a nutshell the judgement says you cannot have a blanket provision
that stops all prisoners voting]

My response to this part of the consultation
Given the UK's obligations with respect to human rights and in particular the Hirst (No. 2) judgement it seems inevitable that at least some convicted prisoners will be allowed to vote. If that happen we must all accept that the votes of prisoners will have an impact on election results. What I could not possibly accept is a situation where the vote of a convicted prisoner counted for more than the vote of a law abiding citizen. Under first-past-the-post it is very common for votes to be unequal in value. Around 70% of all votes cast at the last General Election were wasted according to Make Votes Count. The only solution is to change the voting system to ensure all votes count equally. The change would have to be made at the same time as the Hirst (No. 2) Judgement was implemented or earlier."

What is perhaps more unfair is that prisoners might well get to choose between voting in the constituency that the prison is in or voting in the constituency they lived in before prison [note 1]. The prisoners who understand the voting system may well choose to vote in the constituency where they think it will have the greatest impact. Most law-abiding citizens won't get that choice.

note 1:
"The Prison Service has confirmed that it regularly deals both with the MP for the prisoner’s
home address and the MP for the constituency in which the prison is situated, and are perfectly content to do so...a Prison Service Instruction on Legal and Confidential Access Correspondence which states that correspondence between prisoners and various organisations and individuals, including MPs, should be subject to confidential handling arrangements... where the MP is acting in a “constituency capacity”, which the Prison Service confirms, covers both the home address MP and the MP for the constituency in which the prison is situated..." Members and Constituency Etiquette

Thursday, 9 April 2009

the Government’s response to my petition

"Thank you for your e-petition about the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

It is true that the effect of section 6 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is that only companies that are wholly owned by a single public authority are subject to the Act.

However, there is a provision in the Act for other bodies that appear to exercise public functions to be made subject to the Act, by means of an order under section 5. The Government has recently conducted a public consultation on whether to use the power under section 5 to extend the coverage of the Act to bodies that carry out functions of a public nature. We intend to publish our findings by this summer."

Monday, 6 April 2009

Academies petition is up

please think up your own catchy slogan as to why you should sign a petition to ensure people are allowed to find our information about academies that are state-funded. Then if you are convinced by your own slogan please sign the petition.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Google Group

I have set up this Google Group for people who want to be part of the campaign to improve the Freedom of Information Act and make it easier for people to get information about public services and public authorities.

Please join if you are interested:

coming soon: petition to make academies (state-funded schools) subject to FOI

Friday, 20 March 2009

FOI Blogs - a list

The FOI Wiki now has a list of FOI Blogs. If you are not interested in such Blogs then please stop reading.

list of FOI Blogs

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Who are Group L?

There has got to be a BIG public interest in getting a list of companies who include one of these Trade Codes on their Annual Return:

Group L - Public Administration & Defence

7511 - General (overall) public service

7512 - Regulation health, education, etc.

7513 - Regulation more efficient business

7514 - Support services for government

7521 - Foreign affairs

7522 - Defence activities

7523 - Justice and judicial activities

7524 - Public security, law & order

7525 - Fire service activities

7530 - Compulsory social security

See my FOI request here:

Monday, 16 March 2009

House of Commons not taking FOI Seriously

Francis Irving's requests seems a fairly sensible use of the Freedom of Information Act.

"electronic copies of any documents produced by PICT discussing or evaluating the possible deployment of electronic petitioning systems in Parliament."

So how did the House of Commons deal with it? was it:

[A] a prompt response with full disclosure.

[B] A clear refusal notice citing the relevant exemption.

[C] A long winded exercise in spending public money to keep information from the public? You have obviously asked them for information before

Find out here:

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Who can make an FOI request?

Below is an extract from a recent (3 Mar 2009) ICO opinion, case
reference ENQ0234673 that I have been forwarded. The opinion suggests a valid request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) as an 'applicant' is a request which:

"* “is in writing,
* states the name of the applicant and an address for
correspondence, and
* describes the information requested.”

The FOIA does not seek to place restrictions on who can make a request for information and thus the word 'applicant' is not defined within the Act. An 'applicant' can be a private individual, an company or any other body such as an unincorporated association."

This appears to be quite a liberal interpretation of who can make a request under the Act but it may reflect what the ICO does in practice. Up until now I had assumed that the ICO would only accept appeals from natural persons (people), companies, limited liability partnerships, public authorities and bodies formed by statute, Royal Charter or similar. I thought that only 'legal persons' could make requests.

It would be great if the ICO could publish some guidance on the website about this.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Goverment to use FOI Veto

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has vetoed the publication of minutes of key Cabinet meetings held in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003.

Jack Straw said "There is a balance to be struck between openness and maintaining aspects of our structure of democratic government,"

The fact is though that the Freedom of Information Act contains a public interest test which required the Information Tribunal to consider that balance.

I would rather that crucial decision whether or not disclosure is in the public interest was taken by an independent person rather than someone who might be embarrassed by the information.

Scrap the ministerial veto procedure!

Sunday, 22 February 2009

The Lancaster Experiment - the Appeal

I have today appealed to the Information Commissioner about my request to the Duchy of Lancaster under EIR.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Lancaster Experiment Continued

The Duchy have refused to provide the information I asked for in my Environmental Information Request. The reason given is that the Duchy of Lancaster is 'not a "public authority" as defined within paragraph 2 of the Regulations". So that is it then the end of the experiment then, well not quite.

Comments are appreciated.

The Duchy website says:

"Protecting the environment Duchy lands encompass areas of outstanding natural beauty. The Duchy of Lancaster endeavours to protect the quality of the land, while respecting the commercial needs of tenants. Land use is monitored by the Duchy's management agents to ensure that activities will not impair soil quality, and a number of farms have adopted organic farming methods. Sustainability in energy and resources is encouraged in investment and operational property owned by the Duchy."

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Should people be allowed to make requests anonymously?

Under the Freedom of Act 2000 a valid request requires an address for correspondence and a real name. The ICO accepts that an email address is a valid address.

The law is unfair in several respects:

  1. a person writing on behalf of a company can give the company name and not their own name.

  2. a man with a common English surname e.g. Smith can make a valid request under the name "Mr Smith" and has a much lower chance of being identified than a person with a less usual foreign name.

  3. a rich person might be able to pay a researcher or a lawyer to make the request in their name. This is perfectly legal.

I would support a change to the law so that anonymous requests had to be accepted by default with a provision to allow authorities to ask for a name to be provided where they can show they have a good reason to think a request might be vexatious.

What do you think? (please comment)

Friday, 30 January 2009

Transparency Questionnaire

The idea:

twelve questions to ask every MP in the UK about transparency/FOI

this blog entry is a work in progress - I will keep editing it as ideas come to me.

possible ideas:

see transparency questionnaire

Thursday, 29 January 2009

The Lancaster Experiment

Is the Duchy of Lancaster (headed up by the Queen) subject to the Environmental Information Regulations 2004?

Only one way to find out...

I have made a request: Policies and minutes

I would welcome any suggestions you might have as to how best to make the argument that the Duchy does have environmental responsibilities and/or public functions. You can use the comments feature to do this.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Keep inquests in the open

The Government is putting forward plans for parts or the whole of an inquest to be heard in secret on the grounds of national security or the need to protect intelligence sources.

One of the main reasons for having inquests is to make sure there has been no misconduct leading to a death. When people die in the custody of the state e.g. prison or hospital there is a good chance that if misconduct did take place then public authorities were aware or involved. Without public scrutiny the chance of a cover up is unacceptably high. The same argument applies to deaths in the service of the Armed Forces of the Crown.

Coroners and justice: new year, newish Bill

Stop draconian data plan

"The Information Sharing Orders would remove data protection restrictions that mean information can only be used for the purpose it was taken. "

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Suggestions for next campaign

The petition has now closed... but the work goes on.

Please comment if you have any ideas
for the next campaign to improve access to information in the UK. It could be a petition, a pledge, a new resource or something totally different.

Petition Closed - 370 Signatures

Thanks to everyone who signed and everyone who promoted this. I have not yet received a response from Number 10 but most petitions with this many signatures do get responses so I am expecting one.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

We won - MPs expenses will be published

Read here how the proposed change to the law was defeated

We have won this battle but the campaign to extend and improve freedom of information goes on.

If you are looking for a positive step to take why not sign this:

Monday, 19 January 2009

6 days to stop MPs concealing their expenses

Please read Tom Steinburg's message and do what he says! right now!

"...Ministers are about to conceal MPs’ expenses, even though the public has just paid £1m to get them all ready for publication, and even though the tax man expects citizens to do what MPs don’t have to. They buried the news on the day of the Heathrow runway announcement. This is heading in the diametric wrong direction from government openness."

Facebook Group - I object to MPs concealing their expenses