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Doing nothing many times

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 at 10:44 am Written by:

From my FOI request to the Metropolitan Police Force made on 23 November 2008:

I have determined that the procedure by which the Secretary of State is notified of Section 44 Terrorism Act 2000 authorisations involves applications from Assistant Chief Constables or above being submitted to the National Joint Unit (NJU) of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).

This fact was revealed on page 9 of Cm 7429, “The Government reply to the report by Lord Carlile of Berriew Q.C.: report on the operation in 2007 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and of Part 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006”, published 23 June 2008.

Please can I be sent:

  • Copies of the specimen forms and guidances notes maintained and
    issued by the NJU to help police forces around the country to
    comply with their duties under Section 46 of the Act.
  • Blank copies of the notices which are sent to the Home Office from the NJU for Ministerial authorisation (which must occur within 48 hours).
  • The format of the database (list of fields and descriptions) in which all Section 44 applications are entered into by the NJU as part of the processing.
  • A full copy of the contents of this database.

24 November 2008: “You will receive a response within the statutory timescale of 20 working days as defined by the Act, subject to the information not being exempt or containing a reference to a third party. In some circumstances the MPS may be unable to achieve this deadline. If this is likely you will be informed and given a revised time-scale at the earliest opportunity.”

17 December 2008: “With regard to providing details of the contents of the database, I am
afraid that I am not required by statute to release the information requested…”
under Section 23 (2) Information relating to the security bodies, Section 24 (1) National Security, and Section 31(1) Law enforcement.

31 December 2008 [from me]: Thank you for serving me with: (a) Three exemptions to my request for a copy of the database in which details of all Section 44 authorisations are entered into by the NJU, and (b) No comment at all about my request for the format of this database.

The grounds for my complaint are as follows:

Section 23(2) (Information relating to the security bodies) does not apply owing to the fact that none of those directly involved in the Section 44 powers (neither the chief police constable giving the authorisation, the Secretary of State confirming the authorisation, nor the police officers who actually apply these powers) fall under the security bodies listed in Section 23(3). Consequently, there remains a duty to confirm or deny whether such
a database of Section 44 authorisations exists.

Section 24(1) (National security) does not apply owing to the fact that Section 44(3) Terrorism Act asserts that authorisations “may be given only if the person giving it considers it expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism”. While these hypothetical acts of terrorism may occasionally relate to issues national security (in terms of infrastructure and agents of the state), the comments made in Lord Carlile’s annual reports about the use of Section 44, as well as personal testimonies of those who have been subject to these searches, suggest that many do not. Quite clearly, the existence, structure, and contents of the database as a whole is not a national security issue. Where there is a potential for security body information to be recorded in this database (if it exists), such columns can easily be omitted from any disclosure leaving only the civilian information.

Section 31(1) (Law enforcement) was served as an exemption on the basis that “knowledge of where the authorisations were in place would be of considerable benefit to those individuals attempting to avoid detection when planning to carry out an act of terrorism.” However, the database (if it exists) would contain all the expired authorisations over the past seven years. This historical information cannot be of any use to terrorists attempting to avoid detection for acts which they intend to commit in the future.

And now we’re into the Complaints Procedure. The Police do complaints procedures really well, as you can see.

6 January 2009: “The review will be conducted in accordance to the MPS’s complaints procedure. The MPS endeavour to respond to your complaint by 25 February 2009.”

26 February 2009: “Further to our letter of 6 January 2009, I have unfortunately been unable
to meet the response time originally provided to you… I hope to complete your review no later than 6 March 2009. Should there be any unforeseen delay, I will contact you and update you as soon as possible.”

6 March 2009: “Further to our letter of 26 February 2009, I have unfortunately been unable to meet the response time provided to you… I hope to complete your review no later than 20 March 2009. Should there be any unforeseen delay, I will contact you and update you as soon as possible.

18 March 2009: “Further to our letter of 6 March 2009, I have unfortunately been unable to meet the response time provided to you… I hope to complete your review no later than 3 April 2009. Should there be any unforeseen delay, I will contact you and update you as soon as possible.”

3 April 2009: “Further to our letter of 18 March 2009, I have unfortunately been unable to meet the response time originally provided to you… I hope to complete your review no later than 24 April 2009. Should there be any further delay, I will contact you and update you as soon as possible.”

24 April 2009: “Further to our letter of 4 April 2009, I have unfortunately been unable to meet the response time provided to you… I can confirm your case is near to completion, and I would like to assure you that this case is being treated as priority. I hope to complete your review no later than 8 May 2009. Should there be any delay, I will contact you and update you as soon as possible.”

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