Wednesday, October 06, 2021

A useful ruling

As readers may be aware, I (and everyone else) have been having a growing problem with OIA extensions for "consultations". They're being used by agencies to juke the stats, scam extra time, and cover up administrative failure. So I've taken up complaining about them. And last night, I got a very useful ruling from the Ombudsman:

As Mr O’Neill explained in the provisional opinion, consultation on a request for official information is distinct from the decision on that request. The OIA requires a department, through its chief executive or an authorised officer or employee, to decide whether to grant a request. Employees of a department may be asked to gather information and form a proposed response to an OIA request and to put that before a decision-maker. In such cases, a department may put in place processes to ensure the quality of proposed responses and to keep others within the department informed about what might be released. However, an agreed review and sign-out process of this kind is not ‘consultation’. It is an extension of the decision-making process itself undertaken on the decision-maker’s behalf. Their actions cannot be regarded as separate from those of the decision-maker.
[Emphasis added]

Or, in short, "no, your ordinary decision-making process is not 'consultation', and you can't pretend it is to scam extra time".

I'm trying to get the Ombudsman to publish this decision as a case-note, so its more widely available (and in particular, available to agencies). In the meantime, the notification of it, with excerpt, is on DocumentCloud, so requesters can use it whenever an agency says "internal consultations" in future.