12:10pm Sunday 16th October 2011
By Gavin Aitchison
POLICE are failing to comply with information law in more than half the requests they deal with, it has emerged.
New figures show that in the past six months, North Yorkshire Police has exceed the limit of 20 working days on about 56 per cent of the 229 requests it has dealt with under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Of a further 177 it is currently working on, 107 (60 per cent) have already gone beyond the time-frame.
One request submitted by The Press in May did not draw a response until the 98th working day, last Friday. Two others took 89 and 94 working days respectively, and in all three cases the information was withheld.
Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said: “The force’s compliance with FOI time limits is extremely poor.
"The Information Commissioner’s Office says it will formally monitor the performance of any authority which fails to deal with at least 85 per cent of its requests within the 20 working day deadline, and that if performance is not substantially improved over a three month period, formal enforcement action may follow.
“North Yorkshire Police is a long way below the 85 per cent threshold, so it seems likely that it will be hearing from the ICO in the near future.”
Simon Dennis, North Yorkshire Police’s director of legal and compliance services, said: "Maintaining front line policing services means that changes have, of course, been made to the resourcing of functions like civil disclosure.
"We're satisfied that the amount of money spent on handling FOI requests is broadly appropriate but this remains under detailed review.
He said the force was "committed to openness and transparency" and was in the process of publishing more information routinely online, including full details of each FOI request processed.
He said a small specialist team of staff in the legal department dealt with FOIA requests as well as data protection and other requests for police information and said the team worked hard and aimed to achieve compliance with the time limits.
He added: “We get hundreds of requests per year, though, and we find that journalists and other requesters understand that it isn’t always possible to answer every request on time. We get very few complaints or formal appeals about the way we handle requests.”
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