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Access to Information

The Police Ombudsman aims to provide an efficient, effective and independent police complaints system, which is as open and accountable as possible within the requirements of the law and of public interest.

We believe that it is by providing information and ensuring transparency, when appropriate, about the police complaints system that the police and the public can have confidence in it.

It is within that context that we adhere to our commitment to disclose information, as set out in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018), which is the UK’s implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

We also publish and maintain a Publication Scheme which ensures the proactive disclosure of information held by it as required by section 19 of the FOIA. This provides an overview of the types of information which we routinely make available and how this material can be accessed.
We define 'information' as any material recorded and held by the Office. Requests for the views of staff members or an explanation of their work, if not recorded, will not be regarded as recorded ‘information’ for the purposes of dealing with an information request. 
As part of our normal business, we routinely respond to requests for information from a variety of sources, including: 

  • from Government and other public bodies
  • from members of the public and their representatives about their personal information 
  • from political representatives, media and researchers
  • from people who have made complaints to us and from police officers who have been subject to those complaints. 
  • requests for information as part of criminal, civil or disciplinary proceedings

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 considered a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act.

You can find out how to make a request in our FAQs below.

FAQs Access to 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: [email protected]

  • 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).

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.

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).

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. In 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.

Requests for personal data, known as Subject Access Requests, are covered by the Data Protection Act (2018).

You can make a Subject Access Request verbally or in writing:

  • By email: [email protected]
  • By post: Data Protection Unit, Police Ombudsman’s Office, New Cathedral Buildings, 11 Church Street, Belfast, BT1 1PG (include your full postal addresss)
  • By phone: 028 9082 8600

On occasion we may need to confirm your identity if you are making a Subject Access Request. This is to safeguard personal data and ensure it is released only to those who are entitled to receive it. 

The Information Commissioner’s Office has produced Your Data Matters, a very helpful guide on what information you can request about yourself.

They have also published specific guidance for individuals who want to make a subject access request for their personal information that is held by the police and wider criminal justice system. You should refer to this guidance if you are seeking copies of information held by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) or any organisations within the Department of Justice and request that information directly from them.

When making your request, please include:

  • Your contact details including your phone number if possible.
  • As much information about your contact with our organisation as possible (Did you make a complaint? Was a complaint made about you? Were you a former employee?). This information will help us search our systems.
  • How you would like the information sent to you: posted to your current home address (please provide) or via email (please note many personal email accounts are not considered secure, such as Hotmail or Gmail, and the information is at risk of being hacked).

Once your request (and identification, if required) have been received, we will provide a response within one calendar month.

In the first instance, if you are dissatisfied with either the response or the handling of your request, you should contact us. All complaints should be put in writing to:

  • Email: [email protected] or
  • Post: Information and Communications Unit, Police Ombudsman’s Office, New Cathedral Buildings, 11 Church Street, Belfast, BT1 1PG (include your full postal address)

If you think personal information is missing from our response, you should clearly list what other information you think we also hold. This will help us review our records.

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.

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