OPINION: Lambeth’s official guidance says “All Freedom of Information responses must be published on the Disclosure Log”…..

News From Crystal Palace finds itself somewhat bemused by Lambeth council’s Freedom of Information caseworkers guide.

We currently have EIGHT separate appeals under the Freedom of Information Act being considered by the Information Commissioner’s Office on a wide variety of subjects after Lambeth’s FOI team refused to answer them. The appeals were lodged back in January but these matters, naturally, take time.

The recent revelation that Croydon council’s press office had been asked to clarify an FOI request made by the Inside Croydon website left News From Crystal Palace wondering if something similar was happening in Lambeth. It is – and has been since at least 2015.

Lambeth’s guidance brochure says: “All requests from members of the press must be shown to Press Office before they are dispatched.”

This is somewhat ironic as the only reason News From Crystal Palace started asking Lambeth council questions under the Freedom of Information Act was because the council’s press office had not responded to some questions in the first place and we thought we’d have a better chance of getting an answer going via the Freedom of Information route.

Regular readers will be aware of the continuing saga of FOI requests made by News From Crystal Palace to Lambeth being turned down, the decisions backed up by internal reviews and then News From Crystal Palace having to appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office which anyone is allowed to do. It is the law.

The guide also says: 8.4 Any comments received from the Press Office must be sent back to the Director(s) who cleared the draft response: they are ultimately responsible for signing off what is sent out.

Again, from the guide: 9.1 The Disclosure Log in iCasework automatically publishes each request we receive and our response onto the public facing website. This is provided as a resource to people interested in information held about the council.

9.3 You will be given an option to include the response on the Disclosure Log. Unless there is a good reason not to (which has been agreed with the FOI Co‐ordinator) all responses must be published onto the Disclosure Log.

Each request? News From Crystal Palace searched the log using the key word ‘Carnegie’ in relation to our FOI requests made about the Carnegie library Herne Hill – dating back to 1st January 2016.

If you look for an FOI request made by News From Crystal Palace relating to building work being done outside library hours at the Carnegie library in Herne Hill you will look in vain. Please see: CARNEGIE LIBRARY: MYSTERY OF WHO CARRIED OUT SECRET WORKS REMAINS AS INFORMATION WATCHDOGS BACK LAMBETH dated April 4th 2019

Neither could we find our FOI request IR 186313 relating to correspondence between Greenwich Leisure and Lambeth council relating to the Carnegie.

News From Crystal Palace also notes that some responses – all to requests from other parties relating to the Carnegie library- are not shown on Lambeth’s FOI disclosure log.

Perhaps SOMEONE at Lambeth council might like to explain WHY – or, more importantly, WHY NOT?.

Then there’s the ‘vexatious’ issue.

News From Crystal Palace, responding to yet another refusal to answer an FOI request on the grounds that the writer of this opinion piece, as the requester, (and not the request) was vexatious, had to email a member of Lambeth’s FOI team last November that: “As you are aware, the Information Commissioner’s Office says that you cannot regard the questioner as vexatious, only the question. “Your email does not state in what way you regard this question as vexatious.”

But it transpires that advice was ALREADY in the Lambeth FOI caseworkers guide:

At Appendix E you will find : FOI exemption Section 14 Repeated or vexatious requests If a requestor is vexatious or making repeated requests or is part of an orchestrated campaign, section 14 may apply – but this should only be used as a last resort and is a judgement made on the request not the requester.

So either the FOI caseworker involved had not read the whole script. Or was told to ignore what the guide says….

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