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  • Informants’ secrecy slowly peeling away

    Posted on January 6th, 2010 admin No comments
    Sometimes extracting information from public bodies can be a painful process

    Sometimes extracting information from public bodies can be a painful process. Is it safe?

    Police forces look as if they are going to be forced to disclose yet more information about the amount of money they pay their “sources” for information about criminals.

    The police service has always attempted to maintain a robust defence to protect data about so called Covert Human Intelligences Sources (CHIS). However, that protection had a huge chunk taken out of it last year in a Decision Notice in relation to informants paid by Northumbria Police [link] and has now been further nibbled away at in a ruling against the Metropolitan Police Service [link].

    Arguments have been fairly routine in that the police have acted to protect the confidentiality of their informants and to this end refused to release any meaningful data about the amounts handed over to their “grasses”.

    Forces have claimed S.30 (investigations) and S.38 (health and safety). In summary it is claimed by forces that disclosure of the amounts paid to informants as a whole could lead to the identification of individuals which could be a disincentive for sources to come forward in the future and could lead to attacks on the informant.

    The counter claim has been that the detail of information that is being asked for – normally the annual figure paid to informants in a wide geographical area – is not going to lead to any individual being identified and therefore the exemptions are not relevant.

    The significance of the most recent judgement is the geographical area that the data covers. The request was for the amount paid to informants in Croydon, one of the London boroughs served by the Metropolitan Police Force(MPS).

    Lawyers for the MPS stated that in the Northumbria Police decision the potential pool of people (the population of the Northumbria Police area) was 1.5million, whereas Croydon covers just 300,000 people.

    The Information Commissioner rejected this argument and obviously felt that the informants within the 300,000 population of the south London borough would still have their anonymity assured even if the total payment figures were disclosed.

    The passage of this ruling has a similar history to that relating to the details of the numbers of registered sex offenders in each police area. Initially police would only give the number registered in each force but following a Decision Notice [link] on the subject they were made to give out the numbers by police divisions within each force area.

    UPDATE 9.1.10: It would appear from an article in the Times that it is the Police’s intention to appeal the decision to the Information Tribunal.

  • Police ordered to pay £1,000 to FoI applicant

    Posted on July 15th, 2009 admin No comments
    The Sweeney. The rules of the game have changed a bit since their day.

    The Sweeney. The rules of the game have changed a bit since their day.

    Northumbria Police Force has been ordered to pay £1,000 in costs to a man whose Freedom of Information request ended up at the Information Tribunal.

    The Tribunal ruled that Northumbria Police could have prepared for the case better which would have assisted the smooth running of the Tribunal.

    The applicant, Dr Peter Kelway, was partially successful in his appeal to the Tribunal on the Freedom of Information matter and then lodged an order for costs claiming £26,000. He made the claim against both the Information Commissioner and Northumbria Police.

    Under Rule 29(1) of the Information Tribunal Rules 2005 costs can be awarded if against the appellant or Commissioner if it is felt the appeal or disputed decision was manifestly unreasonable, or where the Tribunal considers a party has been responsible for frivolous, vexatious, improper action, or a failure to comply with a direction or any delay which with diligence could have been avoided.

    In its summary the Tribunal said it was loath to award costs in normal circumstances stating: The Tribunal’s power to award costs under rule 29 is discretionary. The Information Tribunal rarely awards costs. This is not only because of the limited powers under rule 29 but because of the overriding objective of tribunals to provide low cost, prompt and informal justice and that costs should not be seen as a deterrent to parties using tribunals.”

    But in this case it decided that some costs should be awarded saying: “The Tribunal has considered all the evidence and submissions by the parties and finds the delays in compliance with some directions could have been avoided by the Police with due diligence, but that ultimately this did not prejudice the proceedings. However it did cause Dr Kelway to expend additional time on the preparation of his case. We also find that to some extent Dr Kelway contributed to the delays because of the way he dealt with matters but we take into account that he is a litigant in person. What we find surprising is that the Police who are used to court proceedings and are represented by senior counsel in this case did not cope better with Dr Kelway and there was no real excuse in this case for not promptly complying with directions and co-operating more fully with all the parties.”

    The Information Commissioner did not have to pay any costs.

    It would appear (and I’m happy to be corrected) that the only other case in which costs were awarded following an Information Tribunal were in the case of Bowbrick v Information Commissioner and Nottingham City Council [link] in which the Tribunal were critical of the way the council dealt with the request and ordered it to pay all the costs incurred by the applicant. The total figure hasn’t been disclosed as far as I can see so I am asking Nottingham City Council [link] on WhatDoTheyKnow.  

    Details of this costs hearings can be found [here] and the original Information Tribunal is [here] .

  • Police “grass” secrecy goes up in smoke

    Posted on March 11th, 2009 admin No comments




    The Information Commissioner has ruled that Northumbria Police should disclose how much it paid informants, known in police-speak as “covert human intelligence sources” - for each of the last five years.

    Police forces around the country could now be forced to reveal how much they pay “grasses” for information when investigating crimes. 

    Top officers had opposed more openness saying that it could stop informants coming forward and it might also spark attacks on people suspected of being “grasses”.

    The matter was decided after an appeal under the Freedom of Information Act was ruled on by the Information Commissioner. He said the reasons put forward by the police to keep the data secret did “not carry significant weight”.

    The Commissioner said the force’s attempt to have the information remain under wraps has failed because S.38 (health and safety) was not engaged. He also said the public interest test was in favour of disclosure in relation to the argument that the information was covered by S.30 (investigations).

    Despite police forces turning down a string of requests for informants’ costs under the Freedom of Information Act for data about these payments have been uncovered in the past. The Commissioner made refererence to the fact that some of this information had already leaked out in the past when people, often journalists, used their rights under the Audit Commission Act to view police accounts. Last year a reporter uncovered the fact that the Metropolitan Police had paid £2,131,786 in rewards for information in a single year.

    Editor’s note: Although this topic has been something of a hot potato for journalists and the police it would appear the Commissioner was underwhelmed by the arguments on both sides. He stated that the public interest case for releasing the information were “not overwhelmingly strong” but that the case for refusal was even worse, describing it as “not carrying significant weight”. On the balance the pea outweighed the feather. Expect a flurry of requests from reporters wanting to know how much police cash has found its way into criminals pockets.

    Read the decision notice HERE.