PDP - FOI News Update - 24 June 2020


FOI News from PDP

Issue: 24.06.2020

Latest News

Campaign group reports drop in ICO enforcement action

The Campaign for FOI is reporting that its analysis of recent decision notices shows a sharp drop in the Information Commissioner’s FOI enforcement action since the pandemic. The analysis looked at decision notices published in the two full months both before and after the lockdown. In January and February 2020, the ICO ordered public authorities to take substantive action in 32% of decisions (67 out of 212) published in the period. However, only 5% of decision notices (6 out of 116) published in April and May 2020 after the lockdown (which started on 23rd March) required substantive action. The group says “This suggests that the ICO has been holding back decisions that require public authorities to disclose withheld information or reconsider unjustified refusals. This is presumably to shield authorities from the pressure of having to comply with FOI requirements during the health emergency. However, there are signs that the proportion of June 2020 decision notices requiring substantive action is beginning to increase.”

UK Health Ministry maintains secrecy around coronavirus files

The UK government's Health Ministry says it has no record of its attempt to import personal protective equipment for health workers from Turkey at the height of the coronavirus crisis. The claim raises concerns that Department of Health and Social Care files are going missing in advance of a public inquiry into the UK government's handling of the pandemic. The Ministry made its statements after receiving requests made by Middle East Eye under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act. The MEE is appealing the refusals.

FOI wrangle over release of school fire safety records goes to High Court

A FOI battle between the Department of Education and the Information Commissioner of Ireland over school fire safety records has gone to the High Court. The case centres on a request for fire safety assessments carried out at a large number of schools where structural defects were detected. The Department said it had commenced legal proceedings against a named construction firm, and argued that the documents were in draft form, commercially sensitive, being deliberated on, and that it was not appropriate to make them publicly available. The Information Commissioner dismissed the Department’s arguments and directed it to release the school fire safety records in the public interest.

Peter Tyndall calls for review of FOI in Ireland

The Commissioner in Ireland Peter Tyndall has called for a review of the Freedom of Information Act 2014 to include the establishment of an appeals tribunal to reduce the burden on courts, and to broaden the Act to include all bodies in receipt of “significant public funding”. “After five years’ experience of operating the 2014 FOI Act it is clear to me that there is considerable room for improvement. I have made a number of recommendations aimed at improving the Act for everyone, including users and public bodies,” Mr Tyndall said. His annual report highlights that almost 40,000 FOI requests were made to all public bodies last year, representing an increase of 179% over the last 10 years. The Health Service Executive received the most FOI requests in 2019, accounting for more than 11,500 requests or 30% of all requests to public bodies.

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**This week's Featured

Training Courses**

FOI Practical Training - Level 1 (Essential Knowledge)

(available on an eLearning and Classroom basis)

This training session is designed to help those who are on the receiving end of requests for information and those who advise and assist them. The topics covered in this introductory level session include:

·     an overview of the Freedom of Information Act, its structure and core provisions

·     publication schemes

·     handling requests including administrative exemptions and refusal notices

·     an overview of the Exemptions and the public interest test

·     key decisions from the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal

·     understanding the Fees regime

·     how to handle complaints

·     inter-relationship with the Data Protection Act, the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and the Reuse of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005

The next Classroom sessions are taking place on the following dates (further dates outlined online):

·     London  Tuesday, 1st September 2020

·     Manchester   Monday, 28th September 2020

·     Belfast   Monday, 19th October 2020

Find out more about this course >

FOI Practical Training - Level 2 (Applying the Exemptions)

(available on an eLearning and Classroom basis)

Public sector bodies must make daily decisions on how to respond to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act, and how to apply the exemptions in the Act. Those decisions are increasingly reviewed and, in many cases, overturned by the Information Commissioner, the Information Tribunal and the Courts. As case law develops, public authorities need to ensure that they understand when the exemptions can be applied, and what they have to demonstrate in order to apply them correctly.

This training session considers in detail the practical application of the main FOI exemptions. Topics covered include:

·     a detailed analysis of the key exemptions with reference to ICO, Tribunal and Court decisions including confidentiality, commercially sensitive information, effective conduct of public affairs, investigations, law enforcement, health and safety and legal privilege

·     the personal data exemption, and its inter-relationship with the Data Protection Act

·     other access regimes and application of Section 21 (Information Accessible by other Means) and Section 44 (Prohibitions)

·     the duty to ‘confirm or deny’

·     confidentiality, procurement and contracts including latest guidance and ICO and Tribunal decisions

·     drafting robust Refusal Notices

·     the appeals process and dealing with the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal

·     London   Wednesday, 2nd September 2020

·     Manchester   Tuesday, 29th September 2020

·     Belfast  Tuesday, 20th October 2020

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FOI Practical Training (Level 1) - eLearning

This online course is essential for individuals new to FOI, providing a thorough grounding into the key principles and concepts of FOIA.

Classroom version of this course is also available

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Role of the FOI Officer

Practitioner Certificate in

Freedom of Information

The leading qualification for FOI Practitioners

"I am thrilled to have passed the FOI Practitioner Certificate and joined the ranks of a qualified FOI Practitioner. My knowledge of FOI, DPA and EIR has increased immensely and I feel so much more confident in dealing with requests as well as running inductions. I now feel that I belong in my role."

Anabel Raszpla

Senior Information Officer

Medical Research Council

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Freedom of Information Journal

Freedom of Information, front page Volume 8. Issue 1

The Journal is an invaluable source of news, practical articles and expert guidance for professionals in the fields of FOI and Environmental Information.

The Editorial Board comprises of the leading experts and practitioners in Freedom of Information

Digital and hardcopy subscriptions available

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eLearning - Practitioner Certificate in Data Protection


Training Courses

A range of PDP's leading training courses can be undertaken on an eLearning basis, including:

FOI Level 1 (Essential Knowledge)

FOI Level 2 (Applying the Exemptions)

FOI & Data Protection

and many more...

Our dedicated 'on-demand' eLearning Platform utilising videos, supplementary documentation and self-assessment questions

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Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information

(Standard Classroom Programme)

Records Management Training

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"I found the training to be both informative and well-structured which helped to make a complex subject more understandable. The effectiveness of the PDP training is evidenced by my success, in what I believed to be, a challenging examination and also the fact I feel better equipped to function in my workplace."

Kevin Spedding

Witherslack Group

"I am very pleased to have achieved the Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information. The programme provides excellent knowledge and understanding on the practical applications of handling requests for information"

Louise Smith

Financial Ombudsman Service

"I am extremely pleased to have achieved the Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information. The four day course was extremely informative and provided me with a large amount of information on the practical application of the Act, it really helped to fill the gaps. I would highly recommend this course to those working with FOI on a day to day basis."

Daniel Howard

Electoral Commission