The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued an enforcement notice to the Justice Secretary, David Ligington, after a backlog of public data access requests.
In the notice, the ICO stated that it received several complainants from the public seeking an ‘assessment’ of the secretary and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) over the handling of their requests to access personal data held by the department, of which some were five years old totalling at 919 requests.
The complainants alleged that the MoJ had not complied with its duties under Section 7 of the Data Protection Act, as it failed “to respond to subject-access requests without undue delay”.
Based on these complaints and the initial discussions with the department, the ICO concluded that the MoJ’s “internal systems, procedures, and policies for dealing with subject-access requests… were unlikely achieve compliance” with the Act.
Then, the ministry had formulated a plan to clear this build-up by October 2018. By 10 November 2017, the department has reportedly dealt with the very oldest subject-access requests. However, it still had a backlog of 793 requests that were received more than 40 days ago. This included 14 requests from as far back as 2014, which the MoJ had planned to clear by the end of 2017.
The MoJ said 161 outstanding requests received from 2015 are slated to be dealt with by 30 April 2018, 357 received from 2016 will be addressed by 31 August, and 261 from 2017 will be completed by 31 October 2018.
The enforcement notice has also given the MoJ until 31 January to make changes to its internal systems, procedures and policies so that new requests can be processed in line with the law.
The Justice secretary can appeal the enforcement notice by contacting the General Regulatory Chamber Tribunal within the next two weeks.
In a statement, the MoJ said: “We are committed to transparency and improving understanding of how the justice system works, but the information we handle is often highly sensitive and we must weigh these interests with our responsibility never to put children, vulnerable victims, witnesses, staff or criminal investigations at risk.”