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  • Working on the chain gang…..

    Posted on August 18th, 2009 admin 1 comment
    Paul enjoys a life in the sunshine rather than the 'hell' of the jail's Information Governance team.

    Paul enjoys a life in the sunshine rather than the 'hell' of the jail's Information Governance team.

    The Ministry of Justice has suffered an embarrassing failure to uphold the S.43 (Commercial Interests) exemption in a dispute over contracts for prison labour.

    Although chain gangs may be a thing of the past prisoners in England do have jobs for commercial organisations managed through the jails where they are held.

    An attempt by a Freedom of Information requester to find out who these contracts were with and how much they were worth was rebuffed by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) on the basis that the data was subject to S.43.

    The Information Commissioner was eventually called in to rule on two parallel appeals on the subject, one relating to ten prisons and the other relating to eight jails.

    In both cases the Commissioner ruled that S.43 should not have applied to the information and so didn’t even have to go on to consider the public interest test.

    He also made critical comments about the amount of time the MoJ took to deal with the internal reviews in both cases – more than 190 working days in one of the cases and more than 250 working days in the other.

    On the topic of S.43 the public authority stated in its internal review notice that: “… the likely consequences of the identification of companies holding contracts with prisons will include loss of business, lay-offs of workers, becoming the subjects of campaigns against the use of prison labour and adverse publicity, all of which we feel would prejudice commercial interests, as has happened in other cases.”

    It also claimed that in one case the end customers did not know it was prisoners who were the labour force behind the product and if they found out they might cancel the contract.

    A whole host of arguments were put forward by the MoJ in an attempt to justify the S.43 exemption. It claimed the prisons could lose money if contracts were cancelled, the contractors would be put at a disadvantage to competitors, and contractors might have to lay off non-prison staff.

    However, the Information Commissioner ruled against all these arguments and said the exemption was not even engaged, especially as the information requested was not particularly specific in terms of the actual contract, such as the number of prisoners employed etc.

    Although the MoJ did not rely on S.38 (health and safety) the Information Commissioner went on to consider it, in relation to non-prisoner employees of a company using jail labour.

    The Commissioner said: “Whilst the Commissioner understands that a contractor has a duty of care to its staff and notes its concerns, he can find no evidence to support its stance that its staff may be put at risk by disclosure of the information requested in this case in particular, or by public knowledge of its involvement with prison labour in general. Although there is information available on-line to suggest that a well known retailer was targeted by parties who were against the association they claimed it had with prison workers, there is nothing to suggest that any harm or damage was done to its staff. There were a number of demonstrations, along with picketing and leafleting, and although it appears that some persons were ‘moved on’ by the police the Commissioner can find nothing to suggest that there was any further action than this.”

    A group called Campaign Against Prison Slavery says inmates get paid around 30p an hour and have compiled a list of companies with contracts with jails in England [here] and Scotland [here] .

    I have asked the Ministry of Justice to provide me with the details that should now be released and you can see the question [here] on WhatDoTheyKnow.

    And the two decision notices can be seen [here] (relating to eight prisons) and [here] (relating to ten jails) .

    This request was sent in by journalist Phil Chamberlain (see the comment) who has blogged about this topic [here] where you will find a link to articles on the Guardian as well as his own website devoted to investigating prison labour [link] .

    Ministry of Defence: The Information Commissioner has issued a Practice Recommendation [link] critical of the time taken by the MoD to complete an internal review. The MoD seems to have particularly annoyed the Commissioner in that it has taken 40 working days as its target for dealing with internal appeals when this figure is in fact an exceptional allowance – the normal figure being 20 days. However, even using the 40 day limit statistics from the MoD showed 60% of appeals were not dealt with by the expanded timeframe, and in one case a requester had to wait 190 working days for an internal review to be resolved.

  • Police ticked off for “catalogue of failings”

    Posted on April 8th, 2009 admin No comments

    When was it that I lodged that appeal with GMP?

    When was it that I lodged that appeal with GMP?


    Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has received a public rebuke for what is described as a “catalogue of failings” in the way it deals with internal reviews.

    The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has taken the unusual step of issuing a practice direction against the police force ordering it to sharpen up its act.

    Details of the problems within the GMP’s Freedom of Information team are revealed in the ICO’s statement (link) in which the police blame lack of manpower, incorrect inputting, staff sickness, moving office and computer problems on its failure to stick to guidelines for dealing with internal appeals.

    Read the rest of this entry »