Herefordshire parish council facing High Court over Freedom of Information concern

First published in News Hereford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Senior Reporter

A HEREFORDSHIRE man has been waiting 18 months for his parish council to show him their Freedom of Information (FoI) publication scheme.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ordered Border Group Parish Council to respond to John Walker's request by the end of the year - or face the High Court.

In reaching its decision, the ICO says it cannot even be sure that the council – which represents communities close to the Herefordshire and Shropshire border – has a scheme in place because it has never explicitly stated whether or not it holds the requested information to either Mr Walker or the Commissioner.

Mr Walker, from Lingen, told the Hereford Times his parish council seemed to be “so secretive they won’t even tell you what secrets you can and can’t see”.

It had, he said, taken the council 18 months to produce “a piece of paper” it ought to have had ready to show since 2002.

Border Group Parish Council has not yet responded to the Hereford Times requests for comment.

No reason to respond to FOI requests?

The ICO decision comes after months of exchanges over production of the scheme that started when Mr Walker wanted information about the council’s accounts.

In July last year the council clerk told the ICO he could find no confirmation of the formal adoption of a scheme and that, as a small rural parish, it has had no reason to respond to FOI requests.

By April this year, and with no scheme forthcoming, the ICO was involved again, asking the council to issue an “appropriate response” within 10 working days and offering guidance on Freedom of Information issues.

The council said an “up to date” template for a scheme was put on agenda for approval.

Still without a scheme, Mr Walker complained to the ICO again in May with the council saying it had prepared a “draft document of information” issued to all members for final approval.

The ICO has now issued a decision notice ordering the council to respond to the request or issue a valid refusal notice.

The council has been warned that a failure to reply may be referred to the High Court for a contempt of court action.

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