Request for restorative justice data

Publicly available
Legislation:
Official Information Act 1982
Section 18
Legislation display text:
Official Information Act 1982, ss 18(d), 18(g)
Agency:
Ministry of Justice
Ombudsman:
Dame Beverley Wakem
Case number(s):
374966
Issue date:
Language:
English

No certainty that information would be released in the near future—release 14-16 weeks after refusal was not ‘soon’—s 18(g) did not apply

On 20 May 2013, the Ministry of Justice received a request for data on offenders who had attended restorative justice conferences and reoffended. On 19 June 2013, the Ministry responded that it would be undertaking a study on restorative justice later in the year, and the information would soon be publicly available.

The requester followed-up again on 12 December 2013 and 30 January 2014. On 10 February 2014, he was told his request was still being refused under section 18(d), and it would be some time before the information was released. He complained to the Ombudsman. The restorative justice study was publicly released on 3 April 2014.

The Ministry clarified that when it initially refused the request, it anticipated publication would occur by late September / early October 2013. It acknowledged that, given the predicted length of time, it should not have relied upon section 18(d).

The Chief Ombudsman confirmed that reliance on section 18(d) was not appropriate in these circumstances. When the request was received, the information had not been extracted, and its release was not imminent. In fact, there was no certainty about when the information would become publicly available. Even if the information had been released at the time this was originally anticipated (14-16 weeks after the refusal), this would not have been ‘soon’.

However, the Chief Ombudsman formed the opinion that section 18(g) of the OIA applied (information not held). At the time the request was received, all the Ministry held was raw anonymised criminal records. To extract the requested information, the Ministry needed to write a computer programme that would identify offenders who had taken part in restorative justice and determine whether or not those participants had reoffended. This had not taken place when the request was made. 

This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.

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