Monday, March 19, 2007
By Sam McBride

The Northern Ireland Office has been ordered to respond to a Belfast Telegraph Freedom of Information (FOI) request made more than six months ago.

A judgment by the Information Commissioner has given the NIO 35 days to provide a response and warned that failure to comply with its decision may lead to High Court action.

The request, for details of official entertainment by Secretary of State Peter Hain, was made on August 22, 2006.

The Commissioner's decision notice states that, as well as not answering the initial request, Mr Hain's department twice failed to answer written communications from the Information Commissioner in January.

The legal document states: "The Commissioner wrote to the NIO on January 30, advising that he had received further complaints from this complainant regarding unanswered requests made to the NIO.

"The Commissioner again asked the NIO when it would respond to the complainant's outstanding request. No response was received."

In October, the NIO said the request had not been received and asked for it to be resubmitted. It later claimed the request in August may have been identified as junk email.

But the Commissioner's judgment notes: "This does not account for the fact that the complainant did send other emails to the NIO email address which were received."

The order, signed by Assistant Information Commissioner for Northern Ireland Marie Anderson, concludes the NIO has not supplied the information or a refusal notice and has therefore failed to comply with the law.

Last month, the Information Commissioner said that, following several failures in handling FOI requests, the NIO's compliance would be monitored.

NIO ordered to meet Telegraph request - Local & National - News - Belfast Telegraph