Wednesday 20 October 2010

Response to FoIA request for costs of Paul Chambers prosecution

This post is an archive. The live version can be found on a new blog called Arsehole Justice (no offence).

At the end of yesterday I received from the CPS Information Management Unit a response to a Freedom of Information Act request that I placed a couple weeks ago. This is well inside the deadline of 20 working days. Here is the text of the response:

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Our ref: 2484

Dear Mr Flaherty


I refer to your Freedom of Information request which was received on 27 September 2010 regarding the cost of the prosecution against Paul Chambers

Section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act creates a statutory right of access to recorded information held by public authorities i.e. the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). This right is to be informed whether the information requested is held by the public authority or not, and if the information exists, for it to be communicated. A public authority must reply to such a request promptly and in any event, not later than twenty working days after receipt.

I can confirm the case is still an on-going matter and is due to be listed for the part-heard appeal on 11 November 2010; as yet we are unable to confirm the total costs recorded in this case. May I advise that you contact our office once the case has concluded and your request will be considered afresh.

If you are unhappy with the decisions made in relation to your request from the Crown Prosecution Service you may ask for an internal review. You should contact the Information Management Unit (Freedom of Information Appeals), Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge, London, SE1 9HS.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have the right to complain directly to the Information Commissioner, who can be contacted at:
Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF.

Yours sincerely

S Kadir
Information Management Unit
Tel:  020 3357 0899
Fax: 020 3357 0229

I will be requesting an internal review today by return. I asked only for the total costs to date in my request and I fully expect that this information should be available. I also believe that the costs are not sensitive information to an ongoing case. The CPS will have 20 working days to conduct a review and respond.


  1. I think the CPS response is reasonable. It will be easier for them to calculate the total costs at the conclusion of the case and I think the Information Commissioner would accept that. Of course if you had to go that far, the case would be concluded by then anyway and you would have the information requested.

  2. Doesn't this imply that they are not aware of how much they are spending? How much money they are spending should certainly be a consideration for the CPS and should inform their decisions at every stage. Imagine looking back at the end of a case and saying "Oh my goodness, will you look at that? It seems we've spent £2,000,000 of the public's money!". That would not be very good financial management.

  3. Well the cost of a case may be one of the factors they take into account when they decide whether prosecution in the first place is "in the public interest," though it shouldn't be a deciding factor, as the interests of justice should always prevail: they shouldn't decide not to prosecute a suspected serial killer just because the trial will take 18 months and cost millions of pounds. In the Paul Chambers case of course, it's a widely held view that the interests of justice were *not* served by prosecuting, but that's a separate issue from the cost of the case. I doubt they calculate the costs of the case in advance for 'routine' prosecutions.

    The present position is that the current ongoing costs were not actually initiated by the CPS, but by Paul Chambers, when he appealed against the conviction. Bear in mind too that since he was convicted, that in itself more or less justifies the decision to prosecute from the CPS point of view. The CPS make the decision to prosecute but they don't decide if he's guilty.

    In relation to your request, I think it will be difficult for you to justify to the internal review/Information Commissioner that the need for the costs to date is so urgent that it can't wait until after 11 November. It's easy and understandable to get inflamed by the prosecution of Paul Chambers and extend that to the response by the Freedom of Information Officer, but I don't think it's something they will or should take into account when considering a request.

  4. I agree with all that, except for one thing. We're not talking about the costs that were calculated at the outset. We're talking about the running costs up until the present day. These costs will certainly be accounted for and I would expect the financial controllers to be monitoring them. It may not be urgent, but it's a reasonable request. The public has a right to know how much they have spent so far without having to wait until the case is concluded. Suppose the appeal is denied and has to be referred to the High Court? I'm not prepared to wait another year.

  5. Matt - I know you've probably sent your request for IR now, but wanted to add/confirm:

    While I can understand their approach, they have not made a proper response to your request for costs to date. You might want to point out to them that their letter is not a valid response to a request under FOIA for the following reasons:

    a) FOIA requires them ((s1(1)(a)) either to confirm or deny whether they hold the information requested, and the letter does not do this.
    b) You asked for costs to date, and (as you suggest in comments) it is surely incontrovertible that costs must have been incurred to date by the CPS. The CPS has failed to communicate those to you, or alternatively failed to explain why there might be an exemption to disclosure, you require them now to issue you with a valid response to your request.

  6. Hi Jon,

    You are I are the only two people interested in this it seems. :) Thanks for the advice. I received virtually identical advice earlier today and I did in fact point out in my letter that it seemed the CPS were in breach of the FOI act for those reasons. They have acknowledged receipt of me letter. We'll have to wait and see what happens now.

  7. Well...I am a bit of an FOI nerd/purist, but also interested in the cruddy prosecution of Paul Chambers. In fairness to Mr/Ms Kadir, I see where they're coming from, and they're not being too unhelpful, yet. I still think they might try it on with a (weak) s30(1) or 31 exemption.


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