FOI request to the Cabinet Office – the ongoing saga

Freedom of Information request submitted by me last December – still waiting for a response.

Date: Mon, 20 Dec 2010 15:06:28 +0000
Subject: Freedom of Information Request – Andy Coulson

CABINET OFFICE – ANDY COULSON

Dear Sir/Madam,

Under the Freedom of Information Act, please tell me:

(a) On what date the Cabinet Office approved that Mr Andy Coulson could have the cost of his legal fees paid for by News International in relation to the trial of Mr Tommy Sheridan.

(b) Who within the Cabinet Office or Number Ten authorised the decision that Mr Andy Coulson could have the cost of his legal fees paid for by News International in relation to the trial of Mr Tommy Sheridan. Was it a committee that made this decision? Was it Sir Gus O’Donnell? Was it the Prime Minister? Please advise me of precisely who made this decision.

(c) Please provide me with a copy of the minutes of the meeting in which it was agreed that Mr Andy Coulson could have the cost of his legal fees paid for by News International in relation to the trial of Mr Tommy Sheridan

(d) Please provide me with all (a) written and (b) electronic submissions that were submitted to the Cabinet Office ahead of the decision being taken on whether or not the Cabinet Office should approve News International meeting the cost of Mr Andy Coulson’s legal fees in connection with the trial of Mr Tommy Sheridan. This would include all submissions from solicitors, departmental officials, ministers, Mr Andy Coulson and News International.

(e) Please provide me with all advice and guidance, both written and electronic, that has been provided to Mr Andy Coulson in relation to registering the payment of his legal fees by News International as a gift as part of the Cabinet Office’s guidelines for reporting gifts and hospitality.

(f) What internal and external legal advice the Cabinet Office sought ahead of its decision to approve News International’s payment of Mr Andy Coulson’s legal fees in relation to the trial of Mr Tommy Sheridan.

(g) Please tell me what pre-meetings were held involving (a) ministers, (b) Cabinet Office officials and (c) Mr Andy Coulson ahead of the final decision being taken to allow News International to meet the cost of Mr Andy Coulson’s legal fees in relation to the trial of Mr Tommy Sheridan.

(h) A copy of the advice (a) requested or (b) submitted from/to the Cabinet Office from the Treasury Solicitors on this matter. This may be provided either electronically or in writing and would cover any emails sent and received.

(i) Please tell me how much News International is paying towards the cost of Mr Andy Coulson’s legal fees in respect of the Tommy Sheridan trial. Given that the Cabinet Office has had to give its approval to this, the information should be readily available and should be made public.

I understand that under the Act, I should be entitled to a response within 20 working days of your receipt of this email.

Some parts of this request may be easier to answer than others. Should this prove to be the case, I would ask that you release available data as soon as possible – rather than hold up the entire request.

I would prefer to receive this information electronically. If the decision is made to withhold some of this data using exemptions within the Act, please inform me of that fact and cite the exemptions used.

If you need any clarification then please contact me at the number below or via email. Under your section 16 duty to provide advice and assistance I would expect you to contact me if you find this request unmanageable in any way.

I would be grateful if you could confirm that you have received this request, and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Yours faithfully,

Tom Watson MP – West Bromwich East

Letter from Information Commissioner’s Office:

29 June 2011

Your reference: FOI 309425
Our reference: FS50392356

Dear Mr Jenkins

Complaint from Tom Watson MP

I am writing to confirm that the Information Commissioner has received a complaint from Tom Watson MP stating that no response has been sent to an information request which was received by your organisation on 20 December 2010. We enclose a copy of this request for your information.

Any public authority in receipt of such a request is under a duty to respond within 20 working days of receipt. As you know, the Cabinet Office recently signed an undertaking regarding its response times in relation to requests.

In view of the (apparent) severe delay associated with the handling of this request, this has been brought to the attention of the Commissioner’s Enforcement team.

As it is the case that you have not responded but acknowledged receipt of the request, we would ask that you now respond within 10 working days of receipt of this letter.

You should state whether or not the information is held in a recorded form. If it is held, you should either provide the information or issue a refusal notice in accordance with the requirements of section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act or regulation 14 of the Environmental Information Regulations as appropriate. You can find more information on refusal notices contained in the guidance issued by the Commissioner which is available at:

http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/freedom_of

_information/detailed_specialist_guides/fes016_refusing_a_request_v1.pdf

http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/freedom_of_

information/detailed_specialist_guides/fep058_refusing_a_request_v1.pdf

Finally you should be aware that the Information Commissioner often receives requests for copies of the letters we send and receive when dealing with casework. Not only are we obliged to deal with these in accordance with the access provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 (the DPA) and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the FoIA), it is in the public interest that we are open, transparent and accountable for the work that we do.

However, whilst we want to disclose as much information as we reasonably can, there will be occasions where full disclosure would be wrong. It is also important that the disclosures we make do not undermine the confidence and trust in the Commissioner of those who correspond with him.

If you reply to this letter, I would be grateful if you would indicate whether any of the information you provide in connection with this matter is confidential, or for any other reason should not be disclosed to anyone who requests it. I should make clear that simply preferring that the information is withheld may not be enough to prevent disclosure. You should have a good reason why this information should not be disclosed to anyone else and explain this to us clearly and fully.

For further advice on how to deal with information requests, please visit our website at www.ico.gov.uk or call our helpline on 0303 123 1113.

If you need to contact us about this matter, please quote the case reference number from the top of this letter.

Yours sincerely

FOI Case Reception

Information Commissioner’s Office

8 comments ↓

#1 Maire Davies on 08.02.11 at 7:43 pm

Awaiting answers to these important questions. Good luck Mr Watson.

#2 Eileen on 08.02.11 at 8:23 pm

Keep pushing them, this is absolutely ridiculous.

A LA has to respond within 30 days although they usually take much less.

#3 Alex Marshall on 08.02.11 at 9:00 pm

I just wonder what powers they have to enforce this disclosure? Could someone be arrested for non-compliance? Or is the Information Commissioner effectively toothless?
Keep at it, mind.

#4 Andy Roper on 08.02.11 at 9:02 pm

I can’t imagine why the Government, who are strong advocates of transparency and openness, and who have had no inappropriate correspondence with News International; would possibly want to withhold any of this information.

#5 John Baxter on 08.02.11 at 9:29 pm

Seems like a reasonable enough request. Can’t imagine they have good reason not to disclose. Keep turning the screw!

#6 Christine Casey on 08.02.11 at 10:13 pm

Please answer Mr Watson’s freedom of information request as a matter of urgency. Please state who is responsible for the delay and explain what is the cause.

Thank you.

#7 Matt Davies on 08.02.11 at 11:16 pm

This is a FOI request from an MP, get a move on!
You are disrespecting his constituents, the seat of Government and democracy itself!
Goo

#8 Paul jackson on 08.06.11 at 5:43 pm

Keep it up mate.

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