The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has "repeatedly failed" to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, according to a review carried out by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).
As a result the ICO has used its powers and issued NOMS with a formal practice recommendation stating that the agency should review the way it handles freedom of information (FOI) requests.
"The agency should give suitable priority and resource to dealing with FOI requests in order to improve its performance. The ICO also recommends that all relevant members of staff receive training," the ICO warned.
ICO's review into the handling of FOI requests by NOMS found that the agency had repeatedly extended the time limit for considering whether there was a public interest in releasing information, in some cases for 12 months consecutively, and had failed to give specific reasons for the delays.
"In the ICO's view such delays may appear to be designed to hold-up the process of providing full responses to FOI requests. The ICO is also aware of a number of unacceptable delays in dealing with internal reviews after a request has initially been refused. In one case an internal review was only completed nearly 29 months after being requested," the data watchdog stated.
The ICO's review of NOMS found that the agency had not acted in accordance with the Act and had failed to conform to the associated Codes of Practice in various ways, including giving unhelpful advice which could be discouraging to requesters. The ICO also considers that the agency regularly failed to explain sufficiently why exemptions applied when refusing to release information.
"The ICO believes the recommendations made are necessary to ensure the adequacy, consistency and timeliness of responses to both requests for information and internal reviews," the ICO added.
Under the Freedom of Information Act the National Offender Management Service is an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The relevant public authority for these purposes is therefore the MoJ.
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