The following extract summarises the conclusions of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Information (the Ombudsman) following his investigation of the complaint about the Medicines Control Agency. This extract comprises <10% of the whole report (Ref A. 16/99) to Richard Shepherd MP.
35. I turn now to the way in which the MCA handled Mr Medawar's requests. My views on this need to take account of the fact that MCA faced a difficult task because Mr Medawar initially directed his requests to a body which is not only under no obligation to follow the commitments in the Code but which considers itself bound by a statutory restriction on disclosure. Moreover, the information Mr Medawar wished to obtain related to the work of that body. It is therefore to the MCA's credit that they sought to resolve the tension between the CSM's position and what they saw as their own duty to abide by the Code. I fully understand why they wished to obtain the views of CSM members before releasing information contained in CSM minutes; and it seems to me that officials at the MCA worked very hard to resolve that tension in favour of greater disclosure to Mr Medawar. I do not fully understand, however, why the review process took as long as it did; and I know that it caused Mr Medawar much frustration. Nor do I condone the delay. I therefore asked the Permanent Secretary to write to Mr Medawar explaining why the review had taken such an inordinate length of time to complete and to apologise for it on behalf of his department. In reply, he said he had written personally to Mr Medawar on this basis (and I have seen a copy of the letter which he sent on 27 August). My sympathy lies with Mr Medawar, who was repeatedly led to believe that he would receive a substantive reply within a matter of weeks. In the event, he waited sixteen months for the MCA's final decision about how much of the content of the CSM minutes they were prepared to make available to him. That aspect of their handling of the review merits strong criticism. Those who use the Code to obtain official information should have the assurance that their requests will be dealt with promptly. If public bodies within my jurisdiction find that they are not able to reply substantively within a reasonable period of time, they should be realistic about when they will able to do so and aim to keep to their target completion date.
36. I concluded that much of the information which MCA withheld from Mr Medawar could in fact be released. The Permanent Secretary agreed with my suggestions about disclosure, which I welcome. He said that MCA would release the information immediately except where the relevant regulatory action is ongoing; in those instances, the information would be released when the action was complete. I accepted that a small amount of information which, in any case, was not about CSM members' declarations of interest, could be withheld under Exemption 2 and Exemption 4(d). I see this as a suitable outcome to a justified complaint.