Information Commissioner’s Decision correspondence

Issued by Ian McLachlan

On 14 January 2005 I wrote to the Medical Research Council for information about research it had funded into ME/CFS and, also, details of any applications for funding which had been refused. The MRC provided details of applications it had funded and a summary of the general areas covered by the eleven applications which had been refused since 2002.

On 8 March 2005 I requested from the MRC the written evidence that supported the refusal to fund the eleven applications, including the reports provided by independent experts who had reviewed the  applications on behalf of the MRC.

On 15 April 2005 the MRC wrote to confirm that it held reviewers reports and records of its Research Boards assessments in relation to the applications which had been refused. However, it stated that it believed that they were exempt from disclosure under the Act, specifically section 40, as the board’s discussions would identify the grant applicants, section 41, as the applications and the reviewers’ reports were provided in confidence to the MRC, and section 36(2)(b), as making the information public would result in less constructive comments about applications in future.

On 18 April 2005 I emailed the MRC to ask it to carry out a review of its decision to withhold the information I had requested.

On 5 May 2005 the MRC wrote to me to inform me that the result of the internal review was to uphold its original decision.

On 5 May 2005 I wrote to the Information Commissioner to complain about the MRC’s decision to refuse to provide the reviewers reports and Research Boards assessments on the applications which it had refused between 2002 and 2005. I queried whether the disclosure of the information I had requested would be likely to have any detrimental effect on the willingness of Boards members and reviewers to freely express their views. I also felt that there was a significant public interest and benefit in the MRC being open and transparent in relation to the decisions it took over the spending of public money.

Over three years later on the 8th July 2008 I received the Information Commissioners Decision Notice. It informed me that my complaint had been carefully considered and the Commissioner had found in favour of the MRC. I have twenty eight day in which to appeal against the decision.

The time taken to deal with my complaint in my opinion is inexcusable and even though three years has gone by the Commissioner, cannot, when making a decision take into consideration the length of  time involved.

On the 9th July 2008 I wrote the following to the MRC:

Freedom of Information ACT 2000: Section 50(1)

Complaint against Medical Research Council

Case Reference number FS50074593

Dear MRC,

With regards to the above, and taking into consideration the findings of the decision notice which you received yesterday. I would like to re-request under FOI the information I originally asked for on March 8th 2005. I appreciate that you may need time to discuss the findings contained in the report, and would be willing, if necessary, to delay for a short time the start date of my FOI request.

On the 11th July 2008 the MRC replied:

To assess your request will require consultation with a number of external parties, potentially this extend the time needed to assess the case beyond the time limit of 20 working days. Unfortunately at present I am not in a position to provide you with an estimate of how long any extension to this time limit might need to be, but I will be able to provide you with an update as the case progresses. I hope this is acceptable.

On 11th July 2008 I replied:

Thank you for your reply.
I fully understand that you need to consult with other parties. I mentioned in my request that I am prepared to extend the time limit for a short while. I would appreciate it if you keep me regularly updated.

Again on the 11th July 2008 the MRC replied:

Dear Mr McLachlan,

Thank you for your helpful response.

On the 8th July 2008 I wrote the following:

Dear MRC,
Would it be possible for you to provide me with all the written evidence that supported the decision to fund both PACE and FINE?

The MRC replied on 11th July 2008:

Thank you for your request. I’d be grateful if you could clarify what information relating to these two awards you would like to request so that we can determine whether the information can be provided within the appropriate limits as specified by Sections 12 and 13 of the Freedom of information Act.

On the same day I replied:

Thank you for your reply.

I would ideally like all the paperwork associated with both awards. I am presuming that you have estimated the likely costs involved, and are of the opinion that my request will exceed the appropriate £450 limit. I will obviously seek advice on this matter, but in the mean time would it be possible to have a break down of the costs involved first? I can then decide how to proceed. It may well be that if you agree I can either make up the difference myself, or choose which paperwork I feel would be  more beneficial to help promote and stimulate debate about the type of research you fund. Thank you for your help with this matter. I look forward to your reply.

The MRC replied again on the 11th:

Dear Mr McLachlan,

Thank you for your reply, we will now be able to consider your request further and get back to you shortly.

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