This interview was first published by LexisNexis, reproduced here with kind permission of the editor.
Public Law analysis: The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) recently announced that Trafford Council willbe monitored over the timeliness of its responses to freedom of information requests. Jeremy Isaacson, associate at Farrer & Co, considers the background to this announcement and the various issues surrounding the monitoring of freedom of information requests.
What is the background to this announcement?
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FIA 2000) requires public authorities to respond to freedom of information requests promptly and in any event no later than 20 working days following the date of receipt. In certain circumstances a public authority can claim an extension to consider the application of the public interest test for exemptions which are qualified.
If a public body fails to respond within the statutory time limit, the requester can complain to the ICO. The ICO will then usually write to the public authority, telling them to respond to the request. Where there have been significant delays in responding to a request and the requester has complained about the handling of the request, the ICO will usually note the delay if it issues a decision notice relating to the request.
However, where the ICO finds public authorities persistently failing to comply with requests within the time limit, it can take regulatory action by monitoring the public authority's compliance with FIA 2000.
What does ‘monitoring’ mean in this case?
Public authorities that are monitored can expect to have to explain to the ICO the reasons for their failure to meet the requirements of FIA 2000 and to explain the steps they are going to take to improve.
In relation to concerns about delays, the public authority would be expected to show how they are going to deliver improvements to their response handling procedures to ensure that the relevant deadlines are met. Depending on the responses provided, the ICO may decide to take further regulatory or enforcement action.
According to the ICO, ‘the process of monitoring is therefore an opportunity for the authorities concerned to demonstrate that the requirements of the legislation are taken seriously’.
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This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP, August 2016