The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office is part of the Ministry of Justice for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act, the Information Commissioner has ruled.

Information Commissioner's Office webpage displayed on phone screen

Source: Alamy

It means the body, created in 2013 to support the lord chancellor and the lady chief justice in their joint responsibility for judicial discipline, must issue a fresh response to a freedom of information request.

A complaint was made about the JCIO after it rejected a request for complaint-related information. The JCIO argued it was not obliged to respond as ‘it is an independent statutory body and is not a public authority for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000’.

The applicant sought information on the number of complaints received by the office about hostile behaviour by judges as well as how many complaints were upheld.

The JCIO refused the request adding that any information provided in the past ‘should have been provided on a discretionary basis outside the scope of the FOIA.’

A complaint was made to the ICO.

Upholding the complaint, the ICO, found the JCIO was part of the judicial office and though ‘operating at arms-length in practise’ was still part of the MoJ.

It said: ‘The commissioner’s decision is that the JCIO is not a statutory body. He finds that the JCIO is part of the MoJ which is a public authority for the purposes of FOIA. By failing to confirm whether it held the requested information within 20 working days, the MoJ has breached sections 1(1)(a) and 10(1) of FOIA.’

As a result of the ICO’s findings, any information request is ‘effectively’ a request made to the MoJ. The MoJ must issue a ‘fresh response to the complainant’s request’. It has 30 days to do so.

Failure to comply may be dealt with as a contempt of court, the ICO said. It added: ‘The Commissioner would remind the MoJ to revisit its templates to stop making misleading statements.’

The ICO’s findings are open to appeal.


This article is now closed for comment.