Monday, July 03, 2006

Ping pong and Freedom of Information

This evening's ping pong was 1-1, making the series 11-10 to JW. The last game went to deuce 5 times. We couldn't play a decider because the light was getting too bad.

Conversation with Phil Boyd in the Information Commissioner's office. He said that another draft of the Decision Notice on my complaint against the Prime Minister for refusing to give details of his meetings and telephone calls with Mr Rupert Murdoch had been prepared and with the Commissioner's approval it would be issued today. But since the Cabinet Office insist on hard copy, the Notice would be sent out by post, and confirmed by email tomorrow morning. So much for e-government.

On May 24 the Information Commissioner's office (IC) told me that in the next couple of days they were sending the original Draft Decision Letter to the Cabinet Office, for them to comment on the narrow point of whether there was anything in it which was exempt from disclosure - other than the subject of the complain, presumably. They were to be allowed a week.

On June 2 I asked the Information Commissioner's office what was happening, and they said that because of the Bank Holiday, and the extra 'privilege day' civil servants get immediately after a Bank Holiday, the 'week' had stretched, and the Cabinet Office had been given until the middle of the following week.

On June 9, a Friday of course, the Cabinet Office telephoned the IC to say that they wanted to make representations against the Draft Notice on matters of substance. It was clear that if the IC hadn't agreed to this unusual (if not unprecedented) procedure, the Cabinet Office would have appealed to the Information Tribunal, and the Decision would have been delayed by several months. The IC agreed to hear what the Cabinet Office had to say, though I had no right to be told what they said.

Following discussions between the Cabinet Office and the IC, the Decision was amended, and again I am not told what alterations were made.

On June 29 the IC approved an amended version of the decision, and the Notice was prepared and sent to the post room. But late in the afternoon the Cabinet Office emailed the IC raising further unspecified objections, and the IC agreed to defer issuing the Notice yet again.

The point they raised the following Monday was not one that had been mentioned at the meeting, though a minute had been issued of the matters discussed, and it would have been possible therefore for the Cabinet Office to raise it earlier, instead of late on a Friday afternoon.

After all this, I don't expect a favourable outcome tomorrow, but I shall seek to use the Freedom of Information Act to find out how the Cabinet Office have twisted the IC's arm behind the scene.

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