July 2009 Archives

From: [generic email address]@ico.gsi.gov.uk
To: [email address]
Date: Mon, 27 Jul 2009 16:11:45 +0100

27th July 2009


Dear XXX

Further to our previous correspondence regarding your complaint against HMRC I am writing to inform you that your case has now been allocated to me to investigate. I apologise for the delay that has occurred in allocating the case.

The original complaint to he Information Commissioner's Office was made on 29th September 2008 i.e. 301 days or nearly 10 months ago.

The original FOIA request was made on 29th of January 2008. - see: HMRC tax record special categories - initial FOIA request i.e. nearly 16 18 months ago.

Where possible the Information Commissioner prefers complaints to be resolved by informal means where he deems this appropriate. If this does not prove to be possible, he will usually issue a Decision Notice to you and the public authority once an investigation has been completed. This will inform you of his decision and the reasons for it.

Where the Commissioner decides that a request has not been handled properly he may specify what steps he believes are necessary to remedy the situation. This can include requiring a public authority to release information which has previously been withheld. A copy of the Decision Notice will be placed on our website (with your details omitted). If you disagree with the decision that has been reached you have a legal right of appeal to the Information Tribunal.


On 28 January 2008 you requested information concerning HMRC tax
record Special Categories.

On 6 March 2008, HMRC answered some of your questions and provided a "not held" response in relation to some of the information, but withheld the rest under sections 23, 36(2)(c)and 38(1)(a) and (b) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 ("the Act").

HMRC upheld its decision in an internal review which was sent to you on 29 September 2008. You contacted the Commissioner on 29 September 2008 to object to the decision to withhold information under these exemptions. You also brought to the attention of the Commissioner the delays you experienced while HMRC dealt with your request and internal review.


The focus of my investigation will be to determine whether or not HMRC was correct in applying the exemptions with regard to your request for information. During the course of my investigation, I will also consider the timeliness with which HMRC handled your

Please contact me as soon as possible if there are matters other than these that you believe should be addressed. This will help avoid any unnecessary delay in investigating your complaint. If I do not hear from you, my investigation will focus only upon the matters
identified above.

Yours sincerely,

[name of ICO official]

Senior Complaints Officer

FOI Team 2 - Police, Justice and Taxation

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office have actually answered a Freedom of Information Act request in under a week !

"...O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

- Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll

Following a blog posting entitled Secrecy on Don Mitchell CBE QC's blog Corruption-free Anguilla , which is "A Discussion Site for Good Governance and Corruption in Public Life Issues in the British Overseas Territory of Anguilla in the West Indies":, Spy Blog emailed this FOIA request late on Sunday night:

From: [email address]
To: dp-foi.img@fco.gov.uk
Date: Mon, 06 Jul 2009 01:53:32 +0100

Information Rights Team
Information Management Group
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Old Admiralty Building
The Mall

E-mail: dp-foi.img@fco.gov.uk

Monday 6th July 2009

Dear Sir or Madam,

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, please disclose:


The latest copy of the Draft Constitution for the British Overseas
Territory of Anguilla.

This appears to have been presented to Chief Minister Osbourne
Fleming by Lolita Davis-Richardson in February 2009.



Please provide the information, ideally by publishing it on your
public world wide website, or alternatively by email.

Ideally this should *not* be in the form of a "copy and paste"
locked Adobe .pdf file, or similar, attachment.

In the unlikely event that this information is not already
available in a standard electronic format, then please explain the
reasons why, when you provide the information in another format.

If you are proposing to make a charge for providing the information
requested, please provide full details in advance, together with an
explanation of any proposed charge.

If you decide to withhold any of the information requested, you
should clearly explain why you have done so in your response, by
reference to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 legislation.

If your decision to withhold is based upon an evaluation of the
Public Interest, for a Qualified Exemption, then you should clearly
explain which public interest(s) you have considered, and why you
have decided that the public interest in maintaining the
Exemption(s) outweighs the public interest in releasing the

If you decide to conduct a Balance of Public Interest evaluation,
you need to estimate any additional time which might be required,
and to inform me of this in your Substantive Reply, within the
mandatory statutory limit of 20 working days for you to respond to
this Freedom of Information Act request.

Under Section 16 the Freedom of Information Act, you have a Duty to
Provide Advice and Assistance, as to how this current request may
need to be modified, if necessary.

I look forward to receiving the information requested as soon as
possible, and in any event, within the statutory 20 working days
from receipt of this email i.e. no later than Monday 3rd August

Yours faithfully,

email: [email address]

This was acknowledged on the Tuesday:

From: DP-FOI.IMG@fco.gov.uk Add contact
To: {email address]
Date: Tue, 07 Jul 2009 15:45:59 +0100


Thank you for your Freedom of Information request. It has been passed to the relevant section within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to deal with. They will be in touch with you should your request need clarification.

We received your request on 06 July 2009 and will aim to respond within 20 working days.


[name of civil servant]
Information Management Group
Information Rights Team

Astonishingly, late on Thursday, there was a Substantive Reply from the Montserrat and Anguilla Desk Officer in the Overseas Territories Directorate of the FCO, emailed out at Thu, 09 Jul 2009 17:18:50 +0100

09 July 2009

Overseas Territories Directorate
King Charles Street

Tel: 020 7008 nnnn
Fax: 020 7008 nnnn
E-mail: [forename.surname]@fco.gov.uk


{email address]



I can confirm that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does hold information relevant to your request. Under section 21 of the Act, we are not required to provide information in response to a request if it is already reasonably accessible to you. The information relevant to your request can be found on the Government of Anguilla website http://gov.ai/documents/Anguilla%20Constitution%20Draft%202009.pdf.

If you are unhappy with the decisions made in relation to your request from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office you may ask for an internal review. You should contact me if you wish to complain. You have 40 working days to do so.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:

Information Commissioner's Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

Yours faithfully
{name of Desk Officer]

{name of Desk Officer]
Overseas Territories Directorate

Technically, this might be an FOIA rejection, but perhaps our FOIA request on Monday, the day when Anguillan Government Ministers were due to fly to London to discuss this Draft Constitution, may have prompted the publication of this Draft Anguillan Constitution on the Government of Anguilla website, something which should have been done back in February 2009.

Perhaps we were pushing at an open door - the FCO officials would have been able to point out to the Anguillan politicians, that the FCO had no legal grounds for refusing our FOIA request, and that publication was therefore inevitable.

If you look at the meta data of the .pdf document, you can see that the document was only converted to an Adobe .pdf file from a Word .doc file on Tuesday i.e, after the FCO received our FOIA request.

File Name : Anguilla Constitution Draft 2009.pdf
File Size : 188 kB
File Type : PDF
MIME Type : application/pdf
PDF Version : 1.4
XMP Toolkit : 3.1-701
Creator Tool : PScript5.dll Version 5.2
Format : application/pdf
Document ID : uuid:844be5a1-b5ae-4d41-9018-322dd84db176
Instance ID : uuid:acb3824e-6f35-4506-976e-96e6ab65d55b
Page Count : 74
Create Date : 2009:07:07 10:58:45-04:00
Author : KennethMH
Creator : PScript5.dll Version 5.2
Producer : Acrobat Distiller 7.0 (Windows)
Modify Date : 2009:07:07 10:58:45-04:00
Title : Microsoft Word - Anguilla Constitution.doc

N.B. this document could certainly do with some editing, as there are a couple of spelling errors , strange changes in font style and odd highlighting.

The people of Anguilla might wish to ask why, in a 21st century Constitution, there are no specific rights or protections to do with the internet and electronic communications, digital rights and privacy etc., which form such a large part of the tax and data haven economy of this small island remnant of the British empire.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information has analysed the appalling delays experienced by the majority of people who have had to resort to making a Complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office, regarding their Freedom of Information Act requests.

"Severe delays" in investigating freedom of information complaints "undermining" FOI Act


The report analyses nearly 500 formal decision notices issued by the ICO in the 18 months to 31 March 2009. The decisions were made under the FOI Act and the associated Environmental Information Regulations. It finds that -

  • on average it took 19.7 months from the date of a complaint to the ICO to the date on which the ICO's decision on the complaint was issued

  • in 46% of cases it took between 1 and 2 years from complaint to decision

  • a quarter of formal decisions took between 2 and 3 years while 5% of cases (23 complaints) took more than 3 years

  • the longest case took 3 years and 10 and a half months

  • only 24% of decisions were issued within 12 months of the complaint.

The report also found that on average the ICO's investigation into a complaint did not begin until 8 months after the complaint had been received. In 28% of cases, there was a delay of more than a year before the investigation began and 19 cases waited more than 18 months. One complaint had been with the ICO for 22 months before the investigation began.


According to the report's authors, Maurice Frankel and Katherine Gundersen: "A delay of 2 to 3 years or more in reaching a decision, as happens in over a quarter of cases means that even if the information is ultimately disclosed it may no longer be of interest or use to the requester. Requesters who experience such delays may be so frustrated by the experience that they become reluctant to use the Act again or to complain to the ICO about refusals. Delays may also mean that authorities carry on repeating mistakes over long periods, affecting many requests, before the ICO puts them right. Finally, if authorities calculate that they can safely withhold information for several years before the Commissioner compels disclosure, a minority may do so deliberately, just to 'buy time'."


ICO response to report by the Campaign for Freedom of Information


Whilst only 10% of complaints result in a Decision Notice, these cases take longer to resolve than we would like


Despite the improvements already made with additional funding from the Ministry of
Justice, the popularity of FOI means that the number of complaints we are receiving is
outstripping forecasts

Our experience with the long, frustrating delays regarding the bureaucratic Freedom of Information Act process, is not made any less unacceptable, because other people seem to be suffering the same.

The ICO should not be allowed to refuse a Complaint, if a public body has exceeded the 20 working days or "no more than 40 working days" reasonable suggested time limit for Internal Reviews. At the very least they should officially remind the public body of this limit, and criticise any further delays, as deliberate flouting of the spirit of the FOIA when the ICO finally does issue a Decision Notice.

The Ministry of Justice also needs to provide sufficient monetary resources to allow the ICO to clear its backlog of FOIA complaints, by hiring its own, independent staff,rather than by embedding Whitehall civil servants "on secondment".

About this blog

This United Kingdom based blog has been spawned from Spy Blog, and is meant to provide a place to track our Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests to United Kingdom Government and other Public Authorities.

If you have suggestions for other FOIA requests,  bearing in mind the large list of exemptions, then email them to us, or use the comments facility on this blog, and we will see  what we can do, without you yourself having to come under the direct scrutiny of  "Sir Humphrey Appleby" or his minions.

Email Contact

Please feel free to email us your views about this website or news about the issues it tries to comment on:

email: blog @spy[dot]org[dot]uk

Here is our PGP public encryption key or download it via a PGP Keyserver.


WhatDoTheyKnow.com - FOIA request submission and publication website from MySociety.org

Campaign Buttons

Campaign for the Freedom of Information

NO2ID - opposition to the Home Office's Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID - opposition to the Home Office's Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Watching Them, Watching Us, UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond

Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Amnesty International 's irrepressible.info campaign

Yes, Minister

Yes, Minister Series 1, Episode 1, "Open Government" First airtime BBC: 25 February 1980

"Bernard Woolley: "Well, yes, Sir...I mean, it [open government] is the Minister's policy after all."
Sir Arnold: "My dear boy, it is a contradiction in terms: you can be open or you can have government."

FOIA Links

Campaign for the Freedom of Information

Office of the Information Commissioner,
who is meant to regulate the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scottish Information Commissioner,
who similarly regulates the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) 2002

Information Tribunal - deals with appeals against decisions by the Information Commissioners.

Freedom of Information pages - Department for Constitutional Affairs

Friends of the Earth FOIA Request Generator and links to contact details for Central Government Departments and their Publication Schemes

UK Government Information Asset Register - in theory, this should point you to the correct Government documents, but in practice...well see for yourself.

Access all Information is also logging some FOIA requests

foi.mysociety.org - prototype FOIA request submission, tracking and publication website

Blog Links

Spy Blog

UK Freedom of Information Act Blog - started by Steve Wood, now handed over to Katherine Gundersen

Your Right To Know - Heather Brooke

Informaticopia - Rod Ward

Open Secrets - a blog about freedom of information by BBC journalist Martin Rosenbaum

Panopticon blog - by Timothy Pitt-Payne and Anya Proops. Timothy Pitt-Payne is probably the leading legal expert on the UK's Freedom of Information Act law, often appearing on behlaf of the Information Commissioner's Office at the Information Tribunal.

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