(I) Can you tell me on how many occasions West Midlands Police has written to the criminal courts requesting the address of a police officer – when appearing as a defendant in court – be prohibited from being read out in open court, for reasons of security, in the last three years – dating back from the month of the latest such occasion in which such a letter was sent?
(II) Furthermore, can you please provide, in each case where a letter was sent:
The name of the officer who appeared in court
The rank of the officer who appeared in court
The charge(s), if recorded, which the officer faced in court
The department in which the officer worked (E.g. response, OSU, neighbourhood policing, etc)
The policing area, if recorded, where the officer was based (E.g. Wolverhampton, Birmingham East, etc)
The date, if known, when the officer appeared in court
The name of the criminal court in which they appeared, to which the letter was directed (E.g Birmingham Magistrates’ Court, etc)
The name and rank of the senior officer who wrote the letter to the court (E.g. Assistant Chief Constable Gareth Cann)
(III) Can you also supply any wording of any clause within the force’s internal policy governing when such letters are sent as well, please?
We can confirm that some relevant information is held by West Midlands Police. However, while the majority of the information is attached to this email I am afraid that I am not required to release all of the information requested. Please find attached
REASONS FOR DECISION
The withheld information is exempt by virtue of the following exemptions
Section 30 (1) Investigations
Section 40 (2) Personal data
These exemptions and explanatory notes are shown here:
In line with the above, I am required to complete a Prejudice Test/Public Interest Test (PIT) on disclosure.
Release of information through the Freedom of Information Act removes any of the legal strictures and assumptions of confidentiality associated with the due legal process. As a consequence, any ongoing or subsequent court proceedings could be jeopardised where release of information regarding an individual was identified.
Considerations that favour disclosure
Disclosing information about investigations would provide a greater transparency in the investigating process and the actions of a public authority. It is clear that there is a public interest in public authorities operating in as transparent a manner as possible, as this should ensure they operate effectively and efficiently.
Considerations that favour non-disclosure
There is an inherently strong public interest in public authorities carrying out investigations to prevent and detect crime. This ensures that offenders are brought to justice and that the necessary checks and balances are in place to safeguard public funds and resources. To allow the effectiveness of investigations to be reduced, as described in the harm above, is not in the public interest. The Police Service needs to be allowed to carry out investigations effectively away from public scrutiny until such times as the details need to be made public, otherwise it will be difficult for accurate, thorough and objective investigations to be carried out.
It would not be in the public interest to release information that may interfere with court proceedings or prevent an individual from being brought to justice. The right to a fair trial is of paramount importance and any disclosure which could enhance media attention prior to any proceedings could compromise an individual’s right to a fair trial under the Human Rights Act.
For a public interest test, issues that favour disclosure need to be measured against issues that favour non-disclosure. The public interest is not what interests the public, or a particular individual, but what will be the greater good, if released, to the community as a whole.
I recognise that the public interest in being open and transparent is of great importance to all and release of information may assist in the public being more aware of the work that the police are carrying out. However, while the public interest considerations favouring disclosure are noted, this must be balanced with the impact any release would have on individuals’ privacy and future law enforcement activities.
Having considered the arguments for and against disclosure, it is my view that the public interest test favours withholding the exempt information.
At this time, it would not be in the public interest to release this information. West Midlands Police will not disclose information that could reveal personal information or could compromise the future law enforcement role of the force.
Section 40 (2) is an absolute and class based exemption if to confirm or deny that the information exists would breach the third party’s data protection rights. In this case to confirm or deny the existence of personal information would not constitute fair processing of the data. As this exemption is class based I am not required to identify the harm in disclosure and in this instance I believe that the right to privacy outweighs any public interest in release.