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John Vander Luit

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Concern over MoJ's freedom of information performance

Concern over MoJ's freedom of information performance


Family lawyer says ICO's ongoing monitoring of ministry is 'worrying'

The Information Commissioner’s Office is communicating with the Ministry of Justice over its Freedom of Information Act performance following several breaches this year.

The ICO has upheld 13 complaints against the MoJ this year, the majority of which involved breaches of sections 1(1) FOIA 2002 – confirmation by the public authority to the requester that the information is held – and 10(1) FOIA – complying with section 1(1) within 20 working days.

An ICO spokesperson told Solicitors Journal: ‘We are in correspondence with the MoJ about its FoI performance, but aren’t formally monitoring it at the moment. The situation is under constant review.’

The requests cover important aspects of the justice system such as policies at a youth offender’s institute, statistics relating to the number of drug finds in English prisons, and reoffending data relating to serious sexual offences.

The most recent decision came on 10 May when the ministry breached sections 1(1) and 10(1) by not responding to a request for information relating to courts in England and Wales, specifically the loss of court time arising from defendants arriving later than their scheduled hearing.

On 9 March a decision was published relating to the ministry’s failure to respond to a request to provide statistics about orders made in the family court together with information about domestic violence and child protection matters.

The ICO stated that the delay in responding to this request would be logged as part of ‘ongoing monitoring’ of the MoJ’s compliance with the FOIA. However, the ICO confirmed to Solicitors Journal today that this should have read ‘routine monitoring’ instead and refers to its daily casework rather than any formal enforcement process.

The MoJ was last placed under formal monitoring for an extended period of scrutiny between September 2015 and July 2016 over ‘unacceptable delays’ to FoI responses.

Family law solicitor and arbitrator Tony Roe made a series of FoI requests of the MoJ in 2014/15 about divorce centres. His research broke the news that Bury St Edmunds would be the single divorce centre for London and the South East.

‘It is rather worrying that the MoJ has had to be brought to task over this issue. The MoJ’s breach flies in the face of the much-heralded transparency initiative of the president of the family division, Sir James Munby,’ said Roe.

‘It is also concerning that the ICO noted that the delay in responding to this request will be logged as part of its ongoing monitoring of the MoJ’s compliance with the FOIA.’

Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal | @lex_progress