Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Will UK's Cameron & Foreign Office Release LGBT Jamaica Emails?

On October 5th, I submitted the same basic Freedom of Information Act request with the United Kingdom's Prime Minister David Cameron and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for copies of files related to gays in Jamaica.

Cameron was preparing for an official visit to the former colony and questions were asked by British journalists and gays if he would broach the topic of LGBT human rights. I was curious to learn what emails and letters may have flowed from the UK embassy in Kingston to 10 Downing Street pertaining in any way to Jamaica's gay community.

Today, both the PM's office and the FCO emailed official replies to my FOIA request. Cameron's office claims they would need a large amount of time, costing them a tidy sum, to search for the requested files:

"Our records are managed by broad subject area, and we do not hold a single file relating to LGBT issues in Jamaica in which the information you request could be easily and swiftly located. We would therefore in this instance have to ask all members of staff to search through their records going back over 10 months to identify and provide relevant information, as well as make a search of our official records.

"Should you wish to submit a refined request, for example by narrowing the date range of your request, it might be that we could comply with that request within the appropriate limit, although I cannot guarantee that this will be the case. I should add that even if you do refine your request and the information is held one or more exemptions specified within the Act may apply."

Yes, I am submitting an amended request and will see how the prime minister's FOIA officer responds, and I'm surprised they claim not to maintain a file just on LGBT concerns in Jamaica. Surely, the PM's officers have files on single topics such as Jamaican reparations' demands, immigration, trade and prisons, so why no file on the gays?

Here's the FCO's response confirming they have information I am seeking, but there's further review needed:

"I can confirm that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does hold information falling within the terms of your request.

"The FOI Act obliges us to respond to requests promptly, and in any case no later than 20 working days after receiving your request. However, when a qualified exemption applies to the information and the public interest test is engaged, the Act allows the time for response to be longer than 20 working days, and a full response must be provided within such time as is reasonable in all circumstances of the case. We do, of course, aim to make all decisions within 20 working days, including in cases where we need to consider where the public interest lies in respect of a request for exempt information. In this case, however, we have not yet reached a decision on where the balance of the public interest lies.

"In your case we estimate that it will take an additional 20 days to take a decision on where the balance of the public interest lies Therefore, we plan to let you have a response by 30 November 2015. If it appears that it will take longer than this to reach a conclusion, we will keep you informed."

Updates will be shared, as new letters come from London in the coming weeks.

PM's letter:

FCO letter:

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