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One in three reviews take too long

Martin Rosenbaum | 15:30 UK time, Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Last year central government exceeded the recommended time limit for reviewing freedom of information appeals in one in three cases.

According to the Information Commissioner's guidance, 'in no case should the total time taken [for an internal review] exceed 40 working days'. But in 2007 central government internal reviews were completed in over 40 working days in 205 cases out of 620. (And the actual proportion taking longer is probably higher, since this excludes ones not completed by the end of 2007 which are likely to have taken longer than average).

This is revealed in the latest annual report on the Freedom of Information Act, published today by the Ministry of Justice. It collects statistics on FOI requests to government departments and other selected major central government bodies.

The departments which had particular problems last year in getting their internal reviews finished promptly included the Department of Health and the Treasury (Table 7).

The annual report also shows that, out of those departments which process large numbers of reviews, the Ministry of Defence is by far the most likely to modify the initial response sent to the requester (Table 6). It's not possible to say whether this actually involves sending them more information, nor whether it is due to the open-mindedness and thorougness of the reviews or the inadequacy of the first responses.

The total number of reviews has dropped significantly for the second year running, while the number of initial requests is broadly stable (Table 10). This may suggest that central government is managing to develop a higher quality of initial response during the period FOI has been in force.

The report discloses as well (Table 9) that in 2007 there were around 750 cases where central government broke another time limit laid down by the Information Commissioner - the extended period allowed for considering whether it is in the public interest to release information asked for.


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