ICO takes 17 months to reach Whitehall JR decision | News | Law Gazette
A solicitor who complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over the Home Office’s refusal to disclose a submission on judicial review reform has finally been informed of the data regulator’s decision – 17 months on.
Tobias Haynes contacted the ICO in March 2021 after the Home Office refused to disclose, under the Freedom of Information Act, its submission to the Independent Review of Administrative Law.
The Home Office relied on section 35 of the act, which states that information held by government departments is exempt from disclosure if it relates to the formulation or development of government policy. Disclosure of the requested information would inhibit free and frank discussions by ministers and government officials relating to the policy, the department told the ICO.
Haynes contacted the ICO in March 2021
The ICO accepted that there was a legitimate public interest in releasing the submission. ‘The commissioner however accepts that a safe space is needed to develop ideas, debate live issues, and reach decisions away from external interference and that the need for a safe space will be strongest when the issue is still live.
‘As the Home Office has confirmed that the Ministry of Justice was using the material at the time of the request and internal review response to formulate policy proposals, the commissioner believes that disclosure of the information could impact those policy decisions and undermine the safe space needed for policy formulation and development.’
On why it took so long to reach a decision, an ICO spokesperson told the Gazette: ‘The time taken was due to both capacity affecting the time taken to assign the case for substantive investigation due to the impact of both the pandemic and increasing receipts of FOI cases as well as the amount of work needed to then properly investigate the case.’
The ICO highlighted a director’s update published in July on how the regulator plans to speed up the handling of requests. This includes prioritising requests if there is a ‘clear public interest’ in moving them up the queue.
Haynes is considering appealing to the first-tier tribunal.
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