ICO investigates Buzzfeed complaint against MoJ

The press team at the Ministry of Justice could come under scrutiny as part of an investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office into allegations that the government department has breached Freedom of Information law.

The ICO said it is making enquiries into the complaint
The ICO said it is making enquiries into the complaint

The ICO's decision to investigate the claims is the latest development in a long-running battle between Buzzfeed and the MoJ over the release of a report, commissioned by the Government, drawing on the views of a number of Crown Court judges and prosecutors to assess the impact of cuts to legal aid.

Several Freedom of Information requests had been made by BuzzFeed and other parties in spring 2017. They were rejected by the MoJ, which claimed the information was exempt from FOI rules as it related to the creation or development of government policy.

After an intervention by the Information Commissioner, however, the MoJ released a short summary of the report. The MoJ claimed that this six-page document was the only version of the report in existence, according to Buzzfeed.

However, in recent weeks the existence of the full-length, 36-page version of the report - including warnings from judges about rising numbers of defendants appearing in court without legal representation - have come to light after a copy was leaked to the media outlet.

Earlier this month PRWeek reported how Buzzfeed had accused the MoJ of hiding the existence of the report.

The website's formal complaint to the Information Commissioner triggered the investigation which is now underway into the claims.

In a statement to PRWeek, an ICO spokesperson said:"We are making enquiries into a complaint about an FOI request in relation to the Ministry of Justice."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "A complaint has been made about our handling of an FOI request and, as it does when any complaint is made, the ICO is looking into it."

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