The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) came into full force in January 2005. The main feature of this new legislation is that it creates a statutory right of access to information held by over 100,000 public authorities, including the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).
The Prison Service which is part of NOMS, is therefore also covered by the Act. The Open Government Unit of NOMS is responsible for implementing FOI across the Prison Service.
Together with the Data Protection Act 1998 (which concerns the personal information of living individuals), the FOI Act affects every piece of recorded information ever created by public authorities, including e-mails, faxes, paper documents, video recordings, etc.
Aside from a few exemptions (e.g. national security), there is now the presumption that public authority information will be disclosed on request unless there are justifiable reasons to withhold it - the ‘right to know' as opposed to the ‘need to know'.
NOMS is committed to:
promoting informed policy-making and debate
providing timely and accessible information to explain the Service's policies, actions and decisions
responding to requests for information
What is the role of the Open Government Unit (OGU)?
The OGU is responsible for implementing FOI across the Prison Service. The unit provides guidance to the public, offenders, victims and their families, staff and other third parties.
The OGU has a duty to facilitate public access to the information we hold and is committed to actively promoting open practice. We recognise that the benefits of actively encouraging an open climate include a better public understanding of our work and more visibility for our achievements.
How is this done?
The OGU works with a network of Information Access Representatives at local level. It also liaises with other Home Office groups and government departments on a day-to-day basis (for instance when providing information for Home Office-wide statistics and to ensure a shared and consistent response to wider requests covering a number of departments).
What happens next?
When receiving a request, OGU will acknowledge receipt as soon as possible.
When considering a request, the OGU will start from a position that the information will be provided wherever practicable.
If there is a reason not to disclose, the final reply will explain the reason why, how any exemption/s have been applied, public interest test considerations and details about the internal review process.
There is no obligation to provide information which NOMS does not hold.
How long does it take?
All public authorities must respond to FOI requests within 20 working days. Should there be any reason why this may not be possible, OGU will contact you as soon as we become aware of the situation and keep you informed of progress.
Contacting the Open Government Unit
Prison Service requests for information should be directed to:
Open Government Unit
John Islip Street
Tel: 020 7217 2125
Fax: 020 7217 5150
FOI Requests - Time-Saving Tips
An FOI request can be as simple as requesting the names of all prisons in your local area to seeking information about the NOMS strategic policy. Here are a few tips to assist you:
Think carefully about what you require before submitting your request. Is it something very specific or general guidance?
Check whether the information is already in the public domain, for instance in a Publication Scheme. If so, aside from notifying the applicant where they can find it, there is no further obligation for an authority to provide it. The Prison Service section of the Home Office publication scheme can be found here: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/ho-pubscheme.pdf
FOI requests must be in writing. Check that you have included a name and contact details.
Where possible, keep the request as clear and precise as possible and include any relevant facts which will help us answer as quickly and as fully as possible.
Related Prison Service Policy Documents
To access Prison Service Order (PSO) 9020, please use the link below:
PSO 9020 - data protection act 1998 and freedom of info act