Access to Information

The Police Ombudsman’s Office (the Office) is committed to providing the public with as much information as it legally can about its work.  Under legislation, the Police Ombudsman is obliged to put in place a police complaints system which will win the support of the public and is capable of winning the support of police officers.  He is also committee to ensuring, as far as he can, that your view on this Office is based on accurate information and not on rumour, speculation or misinformation.  We want the opinion of the public and police officers to be based on accurate information. 
 
In January 2005, the Freedom of Information Act compelled organisations to make their information available to the public, unless there were reasons which exempted them from doing so.
 
Please note that we define ‘information’ as any material recorded and held by us.  Requests for the views of staff members or an explanation of their work, if not recorded, will not be regarded as recorded ‘information’.
 
If you want information which you think the Office has, you should ask us for it.  If you are currently dealing with members of our staff as part of our normal business, then you should ask them for the information you want.
 
As part of its normal business, the Office also routinely responds to requests for information for information:

  • from government and public bodies,

  • as part of criminal or civil proceedings,

  • from the general public and their representatives,

  • from the media, and

  • from people who have made complaints to us and from police officers who have been subject to those complaints.

If, however, your request is not part of our normal business you can make a Freedom of Information request – this is simply a written request for information where you ask that it can be considered under the Freedom of Information Act. 
 
If you would like to access personal information we hold about you, this is a different type of request, considered a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act.  Please see the section ‘What about personal data?”

Freedom of information

You will find answers to the following questions further down this page.

  • How do I make a request for information?

  • What happens next - how will my request be processed?

  • Are there any fees?

  • Can all information be released?

  • What about personal data?

  • Privacy notice for FoI & DPA requests

  • What if I am dissatisfied with the response I receive?

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act  provides a general right of access to information held by public authorities in the UK, unless there are exemptions under the law which excuses them from doing so.

Authorities are also obliged to publish more information and make it easily accessible to the public. The Office’s Publication Scheme lists the types of information that the Office publishes or intends to publish. Virtually all of this information can be downloaded free of charge. Subjects and titles of items can be obtained from the Publications and Statistics & Research sections of this website.

If the information you require relates to the work of another department or agency in Northern Ireland then you should contact the appropriate department directly.

How do I make a request for information?

If having searched the publications and statistics & research areas of the Office’s website and you cannot find the information you require, please put your request in writing to:

  • Email: info@policeombudsman.org or

  • Post: Freedom of Information Unit, Police Ombudsman’s Office, New Cathedral Buildings, 11 Church Street, Belfast, BT1 1PG (include your full postal address)

  • Describe in as much detail as possible the information that you require, providing any relevant dates, events or subject-headings that will enable us to ascertain if we hold the information

  • State if you have any preference for the format in which the information should be supplied (e.g. a summary or a table of statistics)

What happens next - how will my request be processed?

If the information you request is already reasonably accessible in the public domain (e.g. on the website or published in a report that can be found in a library) then we will direct you to where you can obtain the information. Similarly, if your request does not relate to the Police Ombudsman then we will endeavour to provide you with the contact details of other authorities who may be able to help you.

We will provide you with a full response within 20 working days of receiving the request.

There are special circumstances when the 20 day deadline can be extended. These include:

  • If we write to you asking for clarification because we cannot understand exactly what information you are looking for. The clock-stops until we receive a response from you.

  • If legal advice is being sought in regard to applying the public interest test.

In all cases you will be kept informed if there is a delay.

Are there any fees?

In the majority of cases there will not be a charge.

The FOI Act makes provision for public authorities to charge fees in accordance with the Fees Regulations(which are laid before parliament).

There may be cases where a request for information is so complex that it would exceed the cost threshold. In these instances you will be informed of the options available (such as refining your question so that it can be dealt with for free).

Can all information be released?

In some cases we will not be able to answer all or part of your request because the Office does not hold the information.

When considering whether it can release information to the public, the Police Ombudsman’s Office has to consider a range of legislation, some of which encourages such disclosure and others which prohibit it.

The Freedom of Information Act requires public bodies such as us to disclose material but recognises there are certain instances when they cannot do so and offers them exemptions. The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998, on the other hand, prohibits the Office from releasing information it has received and only allows us to do so in limited circumstances. The Office will consider all the competing legislation in dealing with a request for information  but works on the basis it will seek to be as open as the law allows. It those circumstances where we cannot supply information, we will explain why.

The supply of information under the Freedom of Information Act does not give the recipient or organisation that receives it the automatic right to re-use it in any way that would infringe copyright. This includes, for example, making multiple copies, publishing and issuing copies to the public.

What about personal data?

Requests for personal data are covered by the Data Protection Act (1998). If you would like a permanent copy of the data which you believe the Office holds on you then a subject access request can be made by writing to:

  • Email: info@policeombudsman.org or

  • Post: Freedom of Information Unit, Police Ombudsman’s Office, New Cathedral Buildings, 11 Church Street, Belfast, BT1 1PG (include your full postal address)

You will need to provide adequate identification before your request is processed. Once this has been received we will provide a response within 28 calendar days.

Privacy notice for FoI & DPA requests

In order to process requests for information, it is necessary for us to gather a certain amount of your personal data, e.g. contact details.  We will only gather the information that is necessary to process your request.  The Police Ombudsman is the Data Controller for this, and the sole purpose is to allow us to process your request for information.  We will not share this information with anyone else, with the exception of the Information Commissioner, should they request it.  We will retain your information for a period of three years, to allow us to deal with any subsequent complaints.

You have the right to request all personal data we hold about you; if you feel we have made any mistakes, you have the right to request that we correct your information.  While the Data Protection Act gives you the right to request that we delete your personal data relating to a FoI or DPA request, you should be aware that this would mean that we can no longer process your request.

Should you have any concerns about how we handle the personal data relating to your request for information, you have the right to request an Internal Review (FoI) or to raise your concerns with our Data Protection Officer.  In all cases, you have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner.

What if I am dissatisfied with the response I receive?

The FOI Act makes provision for members of the public to appeal against the response given to a request for information, or to challenge the way in which their request was handled.

In the first instance, members of the public who are dissatisfied with either the response or the handling of their request should contact the relevant public authority. All complaints should be put in writing. For the Police Ombudsman’s Office, any complaints or comments should be sent via:

  • Email: info@policeombudsman.org or

  • Post: Freedom of Information Unit, Police Ombudsman’s Office, New Cathedral Buildings, 11 Church Street, Belfast, BT1 1PG (include your full postal address)

On receipt of a complaint we will contact you to acknowledge that it has been received. Your complaint will be handled by a member of staff unconnected with the initial request.

We will aim to complete the review of your request within 20 working days. Where this is not possible, you will be kept informed of progress and given a likely date for a reply.

If the appeal review overturns the original decision, the request will be processed and the information released to you, entirely or in part. If the original decision is upheld you will receive a letter detailing the reasons why we are unable to provide the information requested.

If you are not satisfied with our response to your complaint, you can contact the Information Commissioner.
 
 

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