FOS declines to publish details of JR course for ombudsmen, and takes 7 weeks to explain why !

This is a shabby FOI response from FOS who took weeks to deal with this issue.   They could have immediately replied along the lines of “Section 36 exempt” but instead they tried to avoid the real answer by saying the question was exempt due to FOI cost and time limits. FOS did suggest the writer should refine his question to reduce the time necessary to respond, but let the cat out of the bag by adding that it was unlikely the request can be refined sufficiently.

The questioner tried again.  He reduced his request to a training session entitled “Judicial Review – Lessons learned”, clearly a simple request for a single document or presentation or similar.  He had done as FOS suggested and he did not ask for an internal review.

FOS ignoring the simplified request and started an internal review.  Then followed a 7 week delay with 2 missed deadlines whilst FOS tried to sort out why the document should not be published.

Eventually the review explains that the matter is exempt as it might (shortened)
inhibit the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation
and/or
would otherwise prejudice, or would be likely otherwise to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs.

It appears that FOS needs a private space for the free and frank exchange of views for 
the purposes of deliberation of our approach to specific legal issues. The restriction 
of this ‘private space’ would restrict open and frank communications around these 
issues. This would in turn affect development of our technical knowledge and restrict 
our ability to resolve cases fairly and reasonably in line with our statutory 
requirements.

The review is a bit wordy and repetitive. It mentions the questioner’s  request for an internal review but I can’t find it, and does not explain why the reason for exemption seems to have changed from the original “time and cost” basis.   The final exemption reason appears to have required the authority of FOS’s Director of Engagement, Annette Lovell who says that In her reasonable opinion this exemption is engaged because the disclosure of the information you have requested would be likely to inhibit the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation.
and
In her reasonable opinion this exemption is engaged because the disclosure of the information you have requested would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of our public affairs.

Hmmmm…   Whilst the comments and interchange between the participants at a training session might need to be kept secret, the FOI question did not ask for these.  It is difficult to see how the course material itself could be so controversial that it cannot be revealed.  More likely it contains details that might prove difficult for FOS if published I would suggest.

I don’t see how publishing this course material would prejudice, the effective conduct of [FOS’s] public affairs.   I hope the questioner refers the matter to the Information Commissioner and we might find out.

Interestingly another FOI recently advised that another course called  Public Law and Judicial Review is apparently not compulsory for Ombudsmen…so the subject can’t be crucially important to them.

Read the whole FOI saga…questions and answers here

Just the final response here (contains most essentials)



Categories: FOI, FOS, JR

Tags: , , , ,

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