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Complaint to the Information Commissioner – DEFRA – Briefings on fly-tipping

Complainant:  Peter Silverman, 20 Kingsend, Ruislip, Middlesex HA4 7DA   01895 625770

I confirm that to the best of my knowledge I have given you accurate information relating to this complaint. I understand that during any necessary investigations, you may need to disclose the details I have provided to the subject of my complaint to allow them to make a proper response.  I also understand that your policy is to destroy documents relating to complaints after six months. I have clearly indicated those documents that you should not destroy and should return to me.

 Complaint

Please refer to:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/briefing_given_to_therese_coffey#incoming-1251212

On 5th March 2018 I had asked DEFRA for “copies of the written briefings given to Minister Coffey by DEFRA in the last 6 months on fly-tipping”.

My request was declined under EIR 12 (4) (b).

In my request for an internal review of 12thApril I said:

Could you please review your application of the public interest test bearing in mind:

  1. That some briefing documents would have contained purely factual information such as the law applicable to fly-tipping, the relative responsibilities of the government agencies, statistics on the cost of clearing fly-tipping, the actions taken by government agencies to deter fly-tipping and on existing policy etc etc

[ To avoid doubt I am not seeking information on the issues I have listed I am seeking information about how they were relayed to the Minister by your department]

  1. Where such documents contain information of a more sensitive nature e.g. on policy formulation these sections could be redacted.

I also drew their attention to your guidance notes on the application of the public interest test to EIR 12 (4) (b).

In their response of 17thOctober 2018 DEFRA provided a list of 7 documents fitting the criteria of my request but decided to withhold them.

They could have chosen to provide redacted copies but did not do so. This would have enabled them to retain their ‘private thinking space’, their actions would have been consistent with Article 4 para 2 of the European Directive and they would have demonstrated a presumption in favour of disclosure.

Instead they justified their stance by saying:

“If we had identified information for disclosure, we would have provided the information with the appropriate redactions to protect any sensitive information”.

This implies that the 7 documents contained onlysensitive information and nofactual information (refer to 1. above). This is patently absurd.

“Our original response shows that we considered the public interest in disclosing information in scope of your request” and “Our review of the public interest arguments set out in the response of 10 April is that the arguments were valid at the time and continue to be valid ….”

However, neither their 10thApril nor their 17thOctober communications considered applying the public interest test to the release of redacted documents.

“As stated above, you suggested that Defra could have provided more purely factual information. Our disclosure of the January 2018 factsheet, which included links to further factual information, goes a good way towards meeting the public interest in information about fly-tipping. Details about what the government has done and our plans were included in the fly-tipping fact sheet”.

However, to avoid this sort of issue blurring I had specifically stated in my request for an internal review: “To avoid doubt I am not seeking information on the issues I have listed I am seeking information about how they were relayed to the Minister by your department.”

I am still seeking that information.

Action requested

Please deal with this complaint solely in accordance with your obligations under FOIA S50. I am not asking you to act as a conciliator.

Please consider issuing a Decision Notice requiring DEFRA to provide copies of the 7 documents redacted of their sensitive information.

I made my request on 5th March. Seven months have now transpired. Three of these was accounted for by the time taken by you to issue your Decision Notice FER0755489 requiring DEFRA to complete an internal review.  I would be grateful if you could turn this complaint round more promptly if at all possible.

Kind regards

Peter Silverman
01895 625770
07799 404 766
www.cleanhighways.co.uk

 

 

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