The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is monitoring the Ministry of Justice following concerns over the timeliness of the UK Government department’s responses to freedom of information (FoI) requests.
The ICO will now review the performance of the Ministry of Justice in relation to FoI requests received between 1 September 2015 and 30 November 2015. This is due to delays being identified in a significant number of cases where the statutory time limit of 20 working days was exceeded.
The latest Ministry of Justice quarterly FoI statistics indicate that they are well below 85% which is one of the triggers for formal monitoring to be considered.
The Royal Borough of Greenwich Council – which was the subject of an extended period of monitoring – has now been taken off formal monitoring following sustained improvements in performance.
The ICO has also announced that Cumbria County Council, Nottingham City Council and Salford City Council have been taken off formal monitoring after improvements in their performance during the last monitoring period which ran between 1 February and 30 April this year.
Announcing the publication of the organisation’s new FoI monitoring list, the ICO’s deputy commissioner and director of Freedom of Information, Graham Smith, said: “Transparency is a cornerstone of a modern democracy. Public authorities must respect people’s rights of access to information. That means responding to FoI requests within the statutory timeline of 20 working days, or with a short permitted extension where weighing up the public interest is particularly complex.”
Smith continued: “We hope the Ministry of Justice uses this monitoring period to bring about significant improvements in this aspect of its service to the public. Statutory time limits are not optional. The improvements we’ve seen at the Royal Borough of Greenwich Council, Cumbria County Council, Nottingham City Council and Salford City Council are very welcome and I hope these service levels will be maintained.”
Other public authorities of ongoing concern
According to the ICO, the performance of the Metropolitan Police Service in responding to information requests “remains a concern”. The Met has recently centralised its FoI handling function and believes this will result in improvements in performance. The ICO is continuing to monitor and work with the force to ensure these improvements are achieved.
The ICO also continues to monitor and review the performance of the Department of Finance and Personnel (Northern Ireland) following an enforcement notice in respect of some long outstanding cases earlier this year.