Friday, June 15, 2012

A cautiously positive response to CPS handling of my Hollie Bentley FOIA request from ICO

In December of 2001 I sent a Freedom of Information request to the Crown Prosecution Service asking for details of how they satisfied their Full Code Test with respect to the doomed prosecution of a 19 year old woman from Wakefield named Hollie Bentley who joked on Facebook about the August riots. Here is that request:

It elicited an unsatisfactory response following internal review, and so I referred the matter to the Information Commissioner's Office. Yesterday I received cautious support from my case handler there. I wanted to share this now. It seems there is a case to be made that a partial disclosure of the information I'd requested is in the public interest. Here is the text of the email I received:

Dear Mr Flaherty, 
I write further to my email of 1 June 2012. Having now had an opportunity of considering this case and reading the correspondence on file, including the arguments which you previously made to the CPS, it is clear that this case involves significant and strong public interest arguments both in favour of maintaining the Section 30(1)(c) exemption and in favour of disclosing the information requested (with names of individuals redacted by virtue of Section 40(2)). Consequently, I am unable to say, at this initial stage of my investigation, what the likely decision of the Commissioner would be, were this matter to require the issuing of a formal Decision Notice. Since the formal investigation process can take some time (especially where a Decision Notice is required), I have spoken with the CPS to explore whether there is any possibility of the information you have requested being voluntarily disclosed to you (in redacted form).

I will be writing to them within the next week to provide them with the Commissioner’s investigation letter and to give them the opportunity to either provide submissions maintaining their position or an opportunity to disclose the withheld information in redacted form, should they wish to do so. As noted, the public interest arguments in this case are finely balanced and the public interest background to the charging of Hollie Bentley (and similar cases) is, as you have articulated, significant. The Commissioner always seeks to secure informal resolution of complaints where possible and if there is any possibility of doing so in this case, this should be clear when the CPS respond to the Commissioner’s investigation letter. Please note that public authorities have twenty working days to respond to an investigation letter, but in cases where a careful deliberation of the public interest is required (such as this one) this deadline may be slightly extended if required and reasonable. 
I will contact you again once the CPS have responded to the Commissioner’s investigation letter, but should you have any questions or queries in the meantime, please feel free to contact me on my direct dial number below. Please note that I am usually available between 10am and 1pm and 2pm and 5.30pm. 
Kind regards. 
Thomas Thwaites Senior Case Officer
Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF.

I'm looking forward to future developments.

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