Policeman forced to hand over notebook

A POLICE officer from Suffolk has been forced to reveal the contents of his notebook to a member of public who complained about him in the first case of its kind in the country.

A POLICE officer from Suffolk has been forced to reveal the contents of his notebook to a member of public who complained about him in the first case of its kind in the country.

The complainant, who was taken to court for a motoring offence and found not guilty, had voiced concern about the officer's conduct following the incident.

But when he asked on May 13 last year for a copy of the police constable's pocket notebook entry relating to the case, it was refused.

Now he has successfully used the Freedom of Information Act to force the officer to hand over the document in a landmark ruling.


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The complainant also requested under the “right to know” laws for a copy of the report relating to his allegation about the police officer.

The allegation was investigated by a senior officer and was not upheld as there were no witnesses to the incident.

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However, after the complainant's request, Suffolk police had refused to disclose the information in the notebook and report on three grounds.

The force argued that the requested information was exempt because it was held for the purposes of an investigation, that disclosure would prejudice the purpose of law enforcement, and the information comprised personal data.

They would also not confirm or deny whether they had the information, despite the complainant knowing it existed.

And they breached the 20-working day deadline stipulated in the Act, with the complainant receiving their response five days later, despite Suffolk police's answer being dated June 13.

The complainant requested an internal review of the refusal but it found the disclosure of the information would cause “harm”.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), an independent public body set up to promote access to official information, then became involved.

And it has now upheld the man's claim that the section in the officer's notebook should be disclosed along with the report, but only after two pieces of information are edited out.

Suffolk police, which could have appealed against the decision to a tribunal, has now sent the information to the complainant, who has not been named.

In a decision notice posted yesterday, the ICO said the public interest in disclosing the information outweighed Suffolk police's concerns.

A spokesman for the ICO said: “This is the first time that we have ruled in terms of the Freedom of Information Act that the contents of a police officer's notebook should be disclosed.

“The issue for us is that the Freedom of Information Act is about making sure that information such as this content in the police officer's notebook should be in the public domain and can be.

“It should ensure greater transparency and accountability as we go forward. Obviously, the information commissioner's job is to referee those decisions and in this case he ordered disclosure.”

Chris Kitchener, chief information compliance officer for Suffolk police, said yesterday: “When first asked for the information pertaining to this incident Suffolk Constabulary followed established Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) guidelines in deciding not to release the information requested.

“ACPO guidance has subsequently changed and a similar request would now meet with a different response.

“Since upholding the complainant's case, the Information Commissioner's Office have assisted us by providing clear procedural guidance that we now follow.

“The information that was requested by the complainant has now been released to him.

“Freedom of Information legislation stipulates that we should respond within 20 working days and this was adhered to although we understand that the complainant may not have received our response until four or five days after it was sent.

“As a matter of policy, we will always respond to the applicant in the same format as they request the information which is why in this case a letter was sent.”

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FACTFILE

n The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives people the right to access recorded information held by or on behalf of public authorities, such as emails, meeting minutes, research or reports.

n It should lead to a better understanding about how public authorities carry out their duties, why they make the decisions they do and how they spend public money.

n The role of the ICO is to enforce and promote the act. It has responsibility for ensuring that information is disclosed promptly and that exemptions from disclosure are applied lawfully.

n There are 23 exemptions to the Act.

n Information may be withheld on a qualified exemption only if the authority considers the public interest in withholding the information is greater than the public interest in disclosing it.

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