FSNI freedom of information

The FSNI policy and procedure on responding to freedom of information requests, access to previous requests and responses, existing sources of information, fees, complaints and personal data.

Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) gives people the right to request information from public authorities. It is intended to promote a culture of openness and accountability amongst public sector bodies, and therefore facilitate better public understanding as to how public authorities carry out their duties, why they make the decisions they do, and how they spend public money.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 came fully into force on 1 January 2005. Further information on the Act is available on the Information Commissioner's Office website.

Right to request information

Forensic Science Northern Ireland (FSNI) is one of the public bodies covered by the terms of this Act.

The right to request information under this Act is not confined to citizens of the United Kingdom or from those resident in the United Kingdom. Requests can be made by individuals of any nationality from anywhere in the world.

The request must be in writing and may be made by e-mail, but the authority receiving the request has the right to confirm the address of the applicant. It must also relate to information that we already hold. The Act does not provide for the compilation of information.

Existing sources of information

Forensic Science Northern Ireland provides information on many aspects of the work of the service on this website. Before making your request you may wish to browse this website to see if the information you require has already been published.

Freedom of Information requests and the FSNI responses can be viewed at the publication section of this website.

Making a request

If you believe that the information you require is not readily accessible (ie it cannot be found on the web site, etc) applications for information can be made in one of two ways:

Email: send your request to the following e-mail address:

Post: send your written request to:

Freedom of Information Team
Forensic Science Northern Ireland
151 Belfast Road
BT38 8PL

In order to provide an efficient service it would be helpful if you: -

1.  Include your full postal address.

2.  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.

3.  State if you have any preference for the format

Responding to your request

If the information you request is already reasonably accessible in the public domain (for example on the Agency web-site or published in a report) then we will point you to where you can obtain the information.

Similarly, if your request does not relate to Forensic Science Northern Ireland then we will endeavour to provide you with the contact details of other authorities who may be able to help you.

If your request relates to unpublished information held by Forensic Science Northern Ireland then we will acknowledge your request and forward it to relevant business areas within the Agency to action accordingly.

We will provide you with a full response within 20 working days of receiving the request.

There are special circumstances when the 20 working day deadline can be extended. These include: -

  1. 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.
  2. If legal advice is being sought in regard to applying the public interest test (ie if the Agency believes that the information requested is covered by an qualified exemption or exception it must apply the public interest test. The public interest test favours disclosure where a qualified exemption or exception applies. In such cases, the information may be withheld only if the Agency considers that the public interest in withholding the information is greater than the public interest in disclosing it).

In all cases you will be kept informed if there is a delay.

Fees and exemptions

In the majority of cases there will not be a charge.

However the FOI Act includes provision for and places no requirement on Public Authorities to respond to any request where the total cost to provide information exceeds £600. This equates to a charge of £25 per hour for 24 hours work and includes:-

  • determining whether Forensic Science Northern Ireland holds the information requested
  • locating the information or document containing the information
  • retrieving the information or a document which may contain the information
  • extracting the information from a document containing it

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 open, such as refining your request so that it can be dealt with for free.

Can all information be released?

In some cases we will not be able to answer all or part of your request because Forensic Science Northern Ireland does not hold the information.

In most cases the information that Forensic Science Northern Ireland holds can be released but the FOI Act does include a number of exemptions covering such areas as national security and information provided in confidence. If Forensic Science Northern Ireland decides to apply an exemption you will be kept informed.

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.

Personal data

Requests for personal data are covered by the Data Protection Act (1998).

Although would you please note the following in relation to DPA Subject Access Requests relating to FSNI case file material.

Section 3 of the Act defines ‘personal data’ - which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of the data controller - as: -

(2) “Personal data” means any information relating to an identified or identifiable living individual

(3) “Identifiable living individual” means a living individual who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to —

(a) an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data or an online identifier, or

(b) one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of the individual.

(5) “Data subject” means the identified or identifiable living individual to whom personal data relates.

Under data protection legislation, organisations handling personal data fall into one of two categories, which are “Data Controller” or “Data Processor”.  This distinction also determines how an organisation should respond to a Subject Access Request (SAR). Data Controllers are the main decision-makers – they exercise overall control over the purposes and means of the processing of personal data.  Processors act on behalf of, and only on the instructions of, the relevant controller. It is a ‘data controller’ who has responsibility for responding to subject access requests.

Under the Act and ICO Guidance issued, FSNI is classed as a ‘Data Processor’.   This is because all the personal information it holds and processes in relation to individuals involved in some way in a crime or similar incident is owned by and provided to FSNI by the relevant “Investigating Authority”. FSNI provide scientific advice and support to those organisations within the criminal justice system and do so only on their behalf. In its own right, FSNI do not process any personal information about you.

Consequently any case work related Subject Access Requests should be submitted to the relevant investigating authority.

If you would like a permanent copy of the data which you believe Forensic Science Northern Ireland holds on you then a subject access request should be made in writing to:

Freedom of Information Team
Forensic Science Northern Ireland
151 Belfast Road
BT38 8PL

You will need to provide adequate identification (e.g. copy of your birth certificate, driving licence, passports, etc.) before your request is processed. Once this has all been received a response will be issued within 40 calendar days.

Dissatisfied with the response

The FOI Act makes provision for members of the public to appeal against the response given to a request for information, or to challenge the way in which their request was handled.

In the first instance, members of the public who are dissatisfied with either the response or the handling of their request should contact the relevant public authority. All complaints should be put in writing. For Forensic Science Northern Ireland, any complaints or comments should be addressed to:

The Chief Executive
Forensic Science Northern Ireland
151 Belfast Road
BT38 8PL.

On receipt of a complaint we will contact you to acknowledge that it has been received. Your complaint will be handled by a panel made up of senior staff unconnected with the initial request. Where this is not possible you will be informed.

We will aim to complete the review of your request within 20 working days. Where this is not possible, you will be kept informed of progress and given a likely date for a reply.

The review of your request will consist of an analysis of the initial reasons for withholding the information and a consideration of how and why the Public Interest Test was applied. If necessary, the appeals panel will seek legal advice.

If the Complaints Panel overturns the original decision, the request will be processed and the information released to you, entirely or in part. If the panel upholds the original decision you will receive a letter detailing the reasons why we are unable to provide the information requested.

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

Further information

In addition to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Data Protection Act (1998), there is one other access to information regime which the Information Commissioner has responsibility for:

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