I received a message from David Holland this evening with this astonishing news:

The alleged conspiracy of scientists at the Climatic Research Unit to thwart Freedom of Information inquiries has prompted the UK Information Commissioner’s Office to seek a change in the law so that it could seek prosecutions against researchers who commit similar offences.

The Office of the Information Commissioner has issued the following statement:

Graham Smith, Deputy Commissioner, said:

“Norfolk Police are investigating how private emails have become public.
The Information Commissioner’s Office is assisting the police investigation with advice on data protection and freedom of information.

The emails which are now public reveal that Mr Holland’s requests under the Freedom of Information Act were not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation. Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act makes it an offence for public authorities to act so as to prevent intentionally the disclosure of requested information. Mr Holland’s FOI requests were submitted in 2007/8, but it has only recently come to light that they were not dealt with in accordance with the Act.

The legislation requires action within six months of the offence taking place, so by the time the action taken came to light the opportunity to consider a prosecution was long gone. The ICO is gathering evidence from this and other time-barred cases to support the case for a change in the law. It is important to note that the ICO enforces the law as it stands – we do not make it.

It is for government and Parliament to consider whether this aspect of the legislation should be strengthened to deter this type of activity in future.  We will be advising the University about the importance of effective records management and their legal obligations in respect of future requests for information. We will also be studying the investigation reports (by Lord Russell and Norfolk Police), and we will then consider what regulatory action, if any, should then be taken under the Data Protection Act.”

As I understand this statement, the only obstacle to prosecution is the very strange time limit in the legislation. The Information Commissioner seems to be satisfied that there were grounds for prosecution.

I can think of nothing more to say about this at the moment except that I hope questions will be asked about why  such an obvious loophole in this legislation, which came into force a decade ago, has not been stopped up.

2 Responses to “No FOIA prosecutions at CRU: from David Holland with Jonathan Leake of the Sunday Times”

  1. HOLLAND AND BEDDINGTON

    What happens when a leading climate sceptic and the government’s chief scientific adviser are interviewed by Eddie Mair on the radio4 PM news proramme. You can find out here:

    Listen Again

    Note how Bedding stumbles in a sentence about using science for political process and also how he blusters as Mair repeatedly encourages him to give his support to the CRU scientists.

  2. Last week I tried to find something about a 6-month time limit in the Freedom of Information Act online – couldn’t find anything but just assumed it was there and I must have missed it. But here’s an interesting update in the Telegraph by Christopher Booker on this subject:

    “Careful examination of the Act, however, shows that it says nothing whatever about a time limit. The Commission appears to be trying to confuse this with a provision of the Magistrates Act, that charges for an offence cannot be brought more than six months after it has been drawn to the authorities’ attention – not after it was committed. In this case, the Commission only became aware of the offence two months ago when the emails were leaked – showing that the small group of British and American scientists at the top of the IPCC were discussing with each other and with the university ways to break the law, not least by destroying evidence, an offence in itself.”

    One commentator in the Telegraph cites what I think is the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FOISA) which does indeed have a six month limit, if you look at section 47: an application to the Commissioner must be made before the expiry of six months after the period allowed in section 21(1) for complying with a requirement for review has elapsed.

    Even then in the Scottish case, the Commissioner may consider an application after the expiry of the six months, “if, in the opinion of the Commissioner, it is appropriate to do so.”

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