Recently in Information Commissioner Category

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".

Another 12 weeks wasted in the Information Commissioner's Office complaints queue:

The original FOIA request was made back on Wednesday 14th November 2007

23rd February 2009
Dear XXX
We last wrote to you on 25 November 2008 about the Freedom of
Information Act complaint you made to the Information Commissioner.
This complaint concerns the request you made to the Home Office on 14
November 2007. This request concerns the number of authorisations
under the Terrorism Act 2000.
Your case remains in the queue of Team 2 (Police and Justice).
Please accept my apologies for the delays that you are experiencing.

The ICO allocated a case number to this complaint back on Tue, 06 May 2008

The Freedom of Information Act is not working properly !

Your case will be allocated when it reaches the front of our queue
and a Complaints Officer has capacity to investigate it in full
detail. We are unfortunately unable to provide updates about either
the content or progress of your case until it is allocated.
I will write to you every twelve weeks prior to allocation and a
Complaints Officer will write to you to inform you when your case is
I hope this email is clear and helpful.
Yours sincerely
David McNeil

Complaints Officer


The ICO's vision is a society where information rights and
responsibilities are respected by all.
If you are not the intended recipient of this email (and any
attachment), please inform the sender by return email and destroy all
copies. Unauthorised access, use, disclosure, storage or copying is
not permitted.
Communication by internet email is not secure as messages can be
intercepted and read by someone else. Therefore we strongly advise
you not to email any information, which if disclosed to unrelated
third parties would be likely to cause you distress. If you have an
enquiry of this nature please provide a postal address to allow us to
communicate with you in a more secure way. If you want us to respond
by email you must realise that there can be no guarantee of privacy.
Any email including its content may be monitored and used by the
Information Commissioner's Office for reasons of security and for
monitoring internal compliance with the office policy on staff use.
Email monitoring or blocking software may also be used. Please be
aware that you have a responsibility to ensure that any email you
write or forward is within the bounds of the law.
The Information Commissioner's Office cannot guarantee that this
message or any attachment is virus free or has not been intercepted
and amended. You should perform your own virus checks.
__________________________________________________________________ or email:
Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane,
Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF
Tel: 01625 545 700 Fax: 01625 524 510

When the Information Commissioner's Office get around to considering the complaint regarding last November's Freedom of Information Act request for the locations and durations of the statutory Authorisations made under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, i.e. the supposedly temporary areas where normal Police stop and search powers are exceptionally changed to become stop and search without reasonable suspicion powers ?

The ICO wrote in May that they had at least a 12 week backlog.

They have now written again, in August, having allocated the complaint to the

Team 2 (Education, Police and Justice) queue

However, there is no estimate of when this complaint will be looked at, let alone resolved.

Click on the HO Terrorism Act 2000 s44 Authorisations category archive, for the full saga of delays so far.

Text of the (paper snail mail) letter:

The Information Commissioner has made a Decision, in favour of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, refusing disclosure of the just names and job titles of the Russian and UK diplomats expelled in July 2007, over the failure to extradite or prosecute Andrei Lugovoi, for alleged involvement in the radioactive Polonium 210 murder of British citizen Alexander Litvineko in London in November 2006.

See the Information Commissioners Office Decision Notice FS50179353 (.pdf)

These names and job titles are obviously known to all foreign governments with embassies in London or Moscow, and to the international press corps and other corporate or national intelligence agencies.

The Exemptions claimed were not, as you might expect, Section 24 National Security or Section 27 International Relations but Section 40 Personal Data

We think that it is wrong for senior diplomats, who, after all, publicly represent the people of the United Kingdom, to be hidden under such a veil of secrecy, when neither National Security, nor their own personal safety are at any risk whatsoever from an FOIA disclosure.

Just because it is a "longstanding diplomatic custom", not to name the individuals expelled in such Cold War games, that is an obsolete concept in this internet age.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office publishes an official list of accredited diplomats at foreign embassies and consulates in London, for protocol purposes.

Every other embassy and consulate in the world, also knows all the other accredited members of the Diplomatic Corp in the capital city to which they are posted, again, primarily for protocol and precedence reasons, to determine who gets invited to, and where they are seated at, official ceremonies and functions.

It seems that the FCO has cast aspersions on our FOIA request, with the insulting claim that:

12 The public authority recognised the fact that in certain circumstances there is a legitimate interest in knowing the identities of officials, for example, where senior civil servants are accountable for high profile projects. However in this case it said that any interest in the identities of the diplomats expelled as a result of the Litvinenko diplomatic dispute could be described as "curiosity" rather than " a legitimate interest that would further a common good". The public authority referred to a decision of the Information Tribunal when it had commented on the difference between what is in the public interest and what is of interest to the public.
That Information Tribunal decision was about prurient interest in medical records, home addresses etc. - which were not was requested in our FOIA request, which only asked for the names and former job titles of the expelled diplomats.

The FCO itself already publishes the London Diplomatic List, which names the possible Russian diplomats who were expelled.

See also the Spy Blog article London Diplomatic List - can you spot the expelled Russian diplomats ?

30. The complainant has suggested that the information he has requested is of an anodyne nature, i.e. the names and job titles of diplomats employed by the public authority in Moscow and their counterparts and that this is information that one might expect to be made readily available. However it is important to stress that what has actually been requested are the names and job titles of diplomats expelled as a result of a very high profile diplomatic dispute. The murder of Alexander Litvinenko and the subsequent diplomatic expulsions generated a significant amount of media interest and the Commissioner is of the opinion that were the identities of the diplomats to be revealed there would be a very real risk that they would be subject to undue press interest or pressure to the extent that disclosure could be considered unfair.

What has the amount of, or lack of "press interest" got to do with a Freedom of Information Act disclosure ??

31. The public authority has also suggested that they may be stigmatised at having been expelled. The public authority has not shown any evidence to justify its concern and the Commissioner makes no comment on this point one way or another. However he does feel that given that the diplomats involved were expelled as a result of a situation over which it appears they had no control, they should be protected as far as possible from any adverse consequences. It would not be unreasonable to suppose that their careers, given the sensitivity of their roles, could be disadvantaged in some way were their identities to be revealed.

If any of the expelled diplomats were actually intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover, then they should never be sent on such a mission again - their cover is blown to all the world's intelligence agencies etc.

The people who will be stigmatised, are all the people who have been working at the London and Moscow embassies, who have, for normal career progression or personal family reasons, left and gone back home or been posted elsewhere, at around the same time, but who have not been expelled.

Transparency and openness through the requested FOIA disclosure would prevent these people from being stigmatised as possible spies.

32. The complainant has argued that the identities of the expelled diplomats will be known to other governments with embassies in Moscow and London and to the foreign press corps. Therefore he has suggested that the public authority's decision to refuse his request is unjustified. The Commissioner sees no contradiction between the public authority's decision to withhold the names of the diplomats and the fact that this information may be known to diplomatic staff that would have an operational need to know this information. Equally, the fact that a relatively small group of journalists may have speculated on the identities of the diplomats concerned is not in itself a reason to order wider disclosure of the information.

How does this make any sense at all ? There is no "wider disclosure" which could possibly affect the expelled diplomats or spies - every intelligence agency, terrorist group, organised criminal gang etc. already knows their identities and probably lots of other details.

33. The complainant has highlighted the decision of the Information tribunal in Ministry of Defence v Information Commissioner and Mr R Evans [EA/2006/0027] (.pdf) in support of his position. In this case the Tribunal decided that the Ministry of Defence should release the details of staff at the Defence Export Services Organisation, including staff operating in sensitive areas overseas. The Commissioner believes that the circumstances in that case were quite different to the circumstances in this case. In that case the Tribunal's decision was influenced by the fact that staff details were already widely available. The Commissioner rejects the complainant's argument that the decision in the Ministry of Defence case somehow acts as a precedent which he is obliged to follow.

That Information Tribunal Decision even allows the disclosure of the names, job titles and office contact details etc. of dozens of Ministry of Defence staff working in Saudi Arabia, where the MoD claimed that they were at particular risk of terrorist attack.

The same cannot be said of the former diplomats who have been sent home from London and from Moscow, who do not face any such risk at all..

This decision by the Information Commissioner is wrong,

It just seems to support rule by "faceless bureaucrats" including Russian Federation ones, who should not be protected by the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000 exemptions at all.

We have until the 3rd of September to lodge any Appeal with the Information Tribunal.

We cannot afford to hire a barrister to represent us before the Information Tribunal, and so this capitulation to faceless bureaucracy by the information Commissioner will probably go unchallenged.

See the full text of the Decision below:

There are still lots of conspiracy theories and misinformation being bandied about regarding the extraordinary Polonium-210 radioactive poisoning murder of Alexander Litvinenko - just keep an eye on the moving east Revision History of the relevant Wikipedia page, and you will see for yourself.

The UK Government has done little to clarify the matter properly, and it has become part of the New Cold War with Russia.

Meanwhile, our little attempt to get a bit of information confirmed officially, which every other Government in the world, and many news agencies etc. already know, but which is being denied to the British public and media, is progressing very slowly.

The Information Commissioner's Office have now started to investigate the refusal of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to disclose the just the names and job titles of the four Russian Federation diplomats and the four United Kingdom diplomats who were expelled from London and, tit-for-tat, from Moscow last summer, following the failure of the UK authorities to extradite their prime murder suspect Andrei Lugovoi from Russia.

If any of these diplomats were actually intelligence agents working under diplomatic cover, that is not something which one would expect to be made public by their respective Governments. However, since there is no chance of any of them ever being posted to similar roles overseas, simply naming them cannot put their lives in any more danger than normal.

Just being a normal British, or indeed, Russian, diplomat in some parts of the world, can either enhance your personal safety, or it can make you into a target, regardless of whether you are an intelligence agent as well.

  • The original FOIA request was made in July 2007,
  • the FCO refused it and internally reviewed it and still refused it in August 2007,
  • the complaint to the ICO went in during August 2007.
  • the Information Commissioner's Office allocated a Case Number in October 2007,
  • and now the ICO have started to look at it in May 2008.

All these delays in the Freedom of Information system favour the secretive Central Government rather than the legal rights of members of the public.

Text of paper letter from the ICO:

The Information Commissioner's Office is still overloaded with a backlog of Freedom of Information Act complaints.

They still have not allocated a Case Officer to the complaint about the Home Office and their refusal to disclose the geographic or time / date details about where and when the supposedly temporary, strictly time and location limited Terrorism Act 2000 Section 44 stop and search Authorisations are, or are not, in effect.

Please accept my apologies for the delays you will experience prior to this case being allocated. I will write to you again every twelve weeks to inform you of the status of your complaint in relation to Team 2's queue and we will notify you when a case worker is assigned to it.

This means that they assume that there is now going to be a minimum 12 week delay before they even start looking into the details of the complaint.

This is not acceptable - it is over 3 years now since the Freedom of Information Act 2000 came fully into force, and the number of actual FOIA requests being made has gone down since then.

See also these Parliamentary Written Answers on the backlog of cases at the ICO

Commons Hansard - Written Answers - 14 May 2008 : Column 1571W


At 31 March 2008, the number of cases awaiting investigation by the Information Commissioner were 1,363 for freedom of information casework and 1,237 for data protection casework.

Additionally, due to the volume of cases referred to the Information Commissioner under data protection, there were 2,250 cases awaiting classification as at 31 March 2008. Of these cases, it is estimated that approximately 60 per cent. would be resolved within 30 calendar days and 85 per cent. within 90 calendar days.


Between April 2007 and March 2008 the average length of time from receipt to commencement of investigation was 69 days for the Freedom of Information Act cases and 30 days for Data Protection Act cases. The average length of time to close an investigation once commenced, was 182 days from for Freedom of Information Act cases and 45 days for Data Protection Act cases.

These disproportionate delays, both by Central Government Departments and by the Information Commissioner's Office etc. are make a mockery of any claims that the Freedom of Information Act has somehow lead to any effective change towards public transparency and openness in the British bureaucratic state

Email from the ICO:

The Office of Government Commerce have emailed to say that the High Court date for their appeal against the decision of the Information Tribunal ordering the full publication of the Home Office Identity Cards Programme early Gateway Review reports, has now been brought forward by a day, and is set to start a 3 day hearing this coming for Monday 3rd March 2008 at 10:00am 10:30am , at the Royal Courts of Justice, in the Strand, (Court number still to be decided).

UPDATE: from the Daily Cause List:





Monday 3 March, 2008

At half past 10


CO/4438/2007 Office Of Government Commerce v Information Commissioner S Office

CO/5491/2007 Office Of Government Commerce v Information Commissioner


According to the Financial Times the Office of Government Commerce, a creature of Her Majesty's Treasury, headed by Chancellor soon to be Prime Minister Gordon Brown is appealing against the Information Tribunal's decision to uphold the Information Commissioner's decision to order the OGC to publish in full, the documents requested in our Freedom of Information Act for the Stage Zero and two Pre-Stage Zero Gateway Review reports into the Home Office's controversial and hugely expensive Identity Cards Programme.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 Section 59 Appeals from decision of Tribunal does allow for an appeal against the decision of the Information Tribunal to be heard by the High Court, but only on a point of law

59. Any party to an appeal to the Tribunal under section 57 may appeal from the decision of the Tribunal on a point of law to the appropriate court; and that court shall be-

(a) the High Court of Justice in England if the address of the public authority is in England or Wales,
(b) the Court of Session if that address is in Scotland, and
(c) the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland if that address is in Northern Ireland.

We are mystified as to what "points of law" OGC can possibly argue before the High Court.

How much money in legal fees will all these pointless appeals end up costing the taxpayers ?

Gordon Brown is already reneging on his recent promises about "open government" or public transparency and accountability. He does not have to wait to take over as Prime Minister, he could have ordered the documents to be released disclosed already, since the OGC is directly under his control as Chancellor of the Exchequer. It seems unlikely that such an infamous micro-manager, would not be fully aware of the OGC decision to waste further public money on legal costs in this matter.

We are awaiting details of any future High Court dates for this case, which could possibly be done via written submissions without a formal hearing. Hopefully the High Court will decide to reject the OGC appeal.

It looks as if Spy Blog has won another round in the long running attempt to get some of the background information on the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme, which should have been made public before the Identity Cards Act 2006 was debated in Parliament.

Office of Government Commerce v Information Commissioner (2 May 2007) (.pdf 104 kb) {UPDATED link to .pdf file)

Information Tribunal

Appeal Numbers:
EA/2006/0068 and 0080
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA)

Decision Promulgated
02 May 2007

Heard at Procession House, London
On 12, 13, 14 and 16 March 2007


John Angel

David Wilkinson and Peter Dixon




For the Appellant: Mr Robin Tam QC
For the Respondent: Mr Timothy Pitt-Payne


The Tribunal upholds the decision notices dated 31st July 2006 and 5th October 2006, except that we find that section 33 as well as section 35 FOIA is engaged, and dismisses the appeals.


90. The Tribunal has considered all the circumstances of this case and finds that the public interest in maintaining the exemption does not outweigh the public interest in disclosure. In other words we uphold the Commissioner’s Decision Notices in this case.



92. The Tribunal orders that the disputed information is disclosed to the complainants. However before requiring this order to be carried out we are prepared to give the parties 14 days from the date of this decision to make written submissions to us as to whether the names of the individuals listed as Reviewers and Interviewees in the disputed information should be redacted. Once we have determined this matter we will then require the OGC to disclose the information in whatever format we determine within 14 days of that determination.

John Angel

Date 02 May 2007

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. - FOIA request submission and publication website from

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 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 - 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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