Complaint over blocked data on jail decision upheld by watchdog

Hollesley Bay prison, near Woodbridge Picture: GOOGLE

Hollesley Bay prison, near Woodbridge Picture: GOOGLE - Credit: Google

The government has been told to release information it originally withheld on its decision to house sex offenders at a Suffolk prison.

In July 2018, Hollesley Bay prison, near Woodbridge, was confirmed as one of several open jails set to be used for accommodating the growing numbers of sex offenders in the criminal justice system.

The following April, Hollesley Parish Council submitted a Freedom of Information request asking the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to disclose any document relating to the decision.

The MoJ refused under an exemption covering information relating to the ‘formulation and development of government policy’ – and maintained its decision after an internal review.

But the parish council complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), arguing that the request related specifically to the original policy decision to house sex offenders at Hollesley Bay and not subsequent plans regarding implementation.

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The ICO ruled that the public interest favoured disclosure of some of the withheld information and told the MoJ to provide the parish council with information specified in a confidential annex provided to the ICO during the investigation, with any personal data redacted in accordance with guidance on third party data.

The parish council said it had not been provided with the contents of the confidential annex and was unaware of the exact nature of the documentation due to be released, but said it would publish the information received on its website if permitted.

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A decision notice published by the ICO said the MoJ had appropriately applied the exemption, but that the public interest favoured disclosure of some of the withheld information.

In its report, the ICO said: “The Commissioner is satisfied that the exemption at section 35(1)(a) is engaged, however she does not consider that there is an inherent or automatic public interest in maintaining the exemption.

“The Commissioner considers that the arguments are finely balanced in this case. Having taken all the above into account, the Commissioner was not satisfied that the MoJ had demonstrated sufficient public interest in maintaining the exemption to warrant withholding all of the relevant information and disclosing none of it.”

The MoJ said it accepted the ICO’s decision and had sent the information to the parish council.

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