Archive for December 22nd, 2013

FOI tangled in pension issue

| 22/12/2013 | 15 Comments

(CNS): Jennifer Dilbert’s final ruling on a freedom of information dispute after five years as the information commisssioner has turned out to be one of the most complex cases she has dealt with. Publishing her 32nd decision on Thursday afternoon, Dilbert described it as a “particularly difficult hearing”. This was down to a catalogue of reasons, including ther fact that the public authority did not follow the law and because it was inextricably linked with a much wider complaint being made by the applicant about the failure of the National Pensions Office to uphold the law when a high profile private sector employer allowed at least one employee to make his own pension investment outside the statutory requirements.

Despite concluding that the ministry involved and the former National Pensions Office had correctly withheld records and redacted others because they contained the personal details of a third party, the request nevertheless threw up a myriad of procedural issues. The incredibly complex hearing also resulted in the information commissioner ordering the applicant to make a fresh request for what were believed to be more missing documents and others in dispute as it was virtually impossible for Dilbert’s office to untangle the mess.

The commissioner said the administrative confusion was compounded by both sides in the dispute as well as the late arrival of the legal department in the matter and a list of records in question that did not match those the information commissioner’s office was dealing with. 

“I believe that it has been frustrating for the Applicant, who has felt that the NPO and the ministry were often not in compliance with the FOI Law, and that there have been unacceptable delays,” Dilbert said about the hearing. “At the same time, the public authorities have made a huge effort, albeit sometimes after delays, to provide the Applicant with a multitude of records.”

She noted that as a result of her office’s intervention almost 18 months ago when the applicant made the appeal to the ICO, many more documents had been released than at the start of the appeal. Dilbert noted that regardless of the much wider dispute, she had to focus on the FOI Law and the legal exemptions claimed and could not consider any other factors.

“While there have been delays and other difficulties with respect to the public authorities’ compliance,” she said, there was “no egregious or wilful failures to comply with the FOI Law" in the case.

“Given the huge amount of time and resources that have been expended on this matter to date, I am not prepared to continue with these appeals in the current form,” she said. “Section 39 of the FOI Law states that the Commissioner may hear, investigate and rule on appeals filed under this Law, and I am hereby exercising my authority to decline to hear or rule on these current appeals,” she added.

Dilbert explained that records being requested were overlapping with some already received by the applicant and in others the exemptions were similar to those applied to the requests in this decision. She also said there was significant confusion between the parties as to what has been already provided, what has been internally reviewed, and what records remain outstanding.

“The most effective way to continue the process of getting access to further records, would be for the Applicant to carefully examine all the records that have been provided, consider the exemptions that have been applied by the NPO and upheld by me, and make a new FOI request for any outstanding records,” Dilbert ruled. “Thiswould include clearly identifying any records that are referred to elsewhere in records already received. These requests could then work their way through the processes in a timely and organised manner.”

In recent weeks, as her tenure drew to a close, Dilbert has pointed to the increasing complexity of the hearings that she is dealing with, which is illustrated by this particular decision. In every case, however, it seems that either poor record keeping or lengthy delays and procrastination on the part of public authorities is compounding the problems, which the ICO is left to try and unravel while applying the FOI law.

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Prison quizzes inmate over drug smuggling allegations

| 22/12/2013 | 9 Comments

(CNS): Officials from HMP Northward said that an enquiry has been conducted at the prison regarding allegations made by an inmate in Summary Court last week. Leighton Rankine had pointed the finger at prison officers as the source of the ganja he was charged with possessing and for which he received an additional 30 days on top of his existing 13 year sentence. When quizzed by the magistrate about the drug, which was found on his possession during a hospital visit, Rankine said that the drugs were smuggled in by guards. Following media report about what was said in court the prison said it had questioned the inmate regarding his allegations but Rankine had not been able to support them.

“Prison administration conducted an inquiry into the allegations made in court that prison officers are trafficking drugs into Northward Prison,” HMP officials said in a short statement released Friday. “Mr Leighton Rankine was interviewed at Northward Prison on Friday, 20 December 2013 and became uncooperative and unable to the support the statement made in Summary Court on Tuesday.”

Rankine is currently serving time in connection with a shooting in a car park close to a West Bay night club in February 2012. Following a trial in June he was convicted of assault, wounding with intent, unlawful use of a firearm and the possession of an unlicensed firearm.

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