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We won't release it ... actually, it doesn't exist

Martin Rosenbaum | 17:15 UK time, Monday, 18 September 2006

While on the subject of internal reviews which have found errors in original decisions on responses to FOI requests, here are probably the most bizarre examples I have come across.

When the BBC asked the Home Office for a copy of the log listing the Home Secretary's correspondence, we were told that officials has assessed whether it was in the public interest to disclose it and had concluded not to.

When we asked for this to be reviewed, we were told that the decision was incorrect because in fact no such log actually existed.

The Home Office then stated: "I am unable to offer a satisfactory explanation for the fact that you were not advised in our initial response that we do not hold a correspondence log." And it is rather puzzling to imagine how the Home Office could originally have carried out a public interest test, comparing the merits of disclosure and non-disclosure, on a document that does not actually exist.

Funnily enough a similar situation arose with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who also rejected a request for a ministerial correspondence log after apparently assessing the public interest - only for it to turn out again on internal review that there was no such document on which a public interest test could have been conducted.

Still, the Defra internal review did make one additional point: "The original reponse did, however, correctly identify the appropriate exemption that would need to have been considered if Defra did hold such a list." Well, I suppose that's good to know anyway.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 09:01 AM on 20 Sep 2006,
  • krishna dipayan dash wrote:


The story is a little different in India. here the legislature itself is uncomfortable with the 'right to information act, 2005' within months of its enactment,it is to be amended. i think BBC should cover it. after all reponsible journalism is something..isnt it?

  • 2.
  • At 10:53 PM on 21 Sep 2006,
  • Mr K wrote:

It seems to me that in both cases it is likely that DCA's 'Clearing House' will have advised the departments on how to answer this since individual departments are required to consult the Clearing House on all requests for internal review - especially those involving ministers and public interest issues. I suspect that these responses smack of the usual narrowing down semantic game-playing that MPs are the victim of when submitting written PQs. I'd appeal to the Information Commissioner if I were you and insist on him inspecting the HO and DEFRA methods of recording incoming correspondence.

Perhaps government departments are taking lessons from the BBC in how to resist Freedom of information requests given that the BBC is resisting a request to release the Balen report which apparently alleges bias in its news reporting?

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