The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been reprimanded by the Information Commissioner for failing to respond to a request for domestic violence data in a timely manner.
An unnamed complainant had sent the Ministry a very detailed Freedom of Information request for data from the third quarter of the year relating to the various legal orders available when an allegation of domestic violence has been made. These included non-molestation orders, occupancy orders and prohibited steps orders, each broken down by family court and judicial area.
Non-molestation orders prohibit contact between the complainant and the person who is the subject of the order. Occupancy orders, meanwhile, specify which party in divorce proceedings may continue to live in the family home or surrounding area. And as the name suggests, Prohibited Steps order specify actions that the subject may not take: for example, taking the child of a divorcing couple out of the country.
The inquirer also asked for the data relating to non-molestation orders and occupancy orders to be broken into various categories – whether they were issued with notice to the subject of the order or ex parte (without notice), as well as by the gender of the applicants.
In addition, the person asked for in-depth data on the many different types of supporting evidence available when one party in a divorcing or separating couple alleges domestic violence. These include unspent convictions; police cautions; injunctions still in force; letters from doctors; letters from social services departments and courtroom findings of fact.
The complainant made their Freedom of Information request on 15 December last year. The MoJ acknowledged receipt of the application the following day but by late January had still not released the information. Under section 10 of the Freedom of Information Act, government departments are required to fully respond within 20 working days of receiving a Freedom of Information application.
The inquirer contacted the Information Commissioner’s (ICO) office in late January to alert them to the continuing absence of a response. But even after the ICO subsequently wrote to the Ministry requesting a response within 10 days the data remained unreleased.
The enquirer then returned to the ICO. In a newly published notice, the Information Commission subsequently determined that the Ministry had indeed breached the Freedom of Information Act.
The ICO specified a fresh deadline of 35 days for full compliance with the original application or the issue of a valid refusal notice, as specified by section 17 of the Act. Failure to meet this deadline could lead the Commissioner to report the Ministry to the High Court, resulting in a possible contempt of court charge.
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