Justice officials stall on tagging FOI

Justice officials are considering withholding key documents relating to the management of offenders in the community after an EDP investigation revealed the number of criminals who had removed their electronic tags.

Justice officials are considering withholding key documents relating to the management of offenders in the community after an EDP investigation revealed the number of criminals who had removed their electronic tags.

The newly formed Ministry of Justice has requested more time to decide whether it is in the public interest to release the figures and papers following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request asking about the number of offenders who breached their sentences by removing the monitoring devices.

Last year it emerged that thousands of convicts had ripped their tags off making it impossible to track their actions but the Home Office, which at the time was responsible for offender management, had no accurate figures on the subject.

The EDP had hoped to discover what had been done to improve this situation - but may now be prevented from doing so.

In a letter, Janet Preston, from the Ministry of Justice's National Offender Management Scheme's open government unit, said: “Although the Freedom of Information Act carries a presumption in favour of disclosure, it provides exemptions which may be used to withhold information in specified circumstances.”

Most FOI requests are dealt with within 20 working days. The Ministry of Justice is now proposing taking more than 40 working days to respond.

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It comes as MPs called on the government to drops its plans to restrict access to freedom of information amid concerns it will allow public bodies to dodge difficult or embarrassing questions.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, wants to limit the FOI Act in a bid to stop MPs and journalists getting hold of government secrets.

But the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee described the proposals as “unnecessary, unpopular and undesirable”.

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