Help us with drafting a FOI request on the MLA’s indemnity insurance claim…

This is an experiment in participation. I would like to get to the bottom of this business of MLAs insurance, and it seems to me that it’;s best done openly. So I’ve begun a draft Freedom of Information request which is open for Slugger readers to add to and redraft… Or simply to comment on the Google doc or below.

I want to send it in on Monday. And I will post in to the Assembly via the WhatDoTheyKnow website. That way we can all keep track of it, note the response times and get notification when the response comes. I’ll post the relevant page once it has been sent.

So please do get weaving…

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  • Rory Carr

    Mick,

    I understand from previous intelligence from our old guest blogger, Mark McGregor that precision is all when drafting these requests. I have made a few comments on the draft request which I hope are helpful however it might be wise to enlist the aid of one well versed in this activity. Does our usually helpful correspondent, Lionel Hutz, for example, have any experience in this field ?

    Anyway, let’s get her done !

    A

  • Mick Fealty

    Rory,

    Good advice. What I want to do here is make sure we have all useful bases covered. That’s why I’m more than welcoming any criticism or changes people have to suggest. Google docs will keep each draft as we go back, so I reinstate or take stuff out of the final draft. But I WILL share what I finally send in…

  • zoot01

    Don’t know how to draft Freedom of Information request BUT I was an Insurance Loss Adjuster for over 30 years, 16 of those spent working internationally. I specialised in Liability claims.
    If it would help, I would raise the following points:
    1. MLA’s are Self Employed and are therefore surely responsible for arranging their own insurance – they are not employed by Stormont but as I understand it, are reimbursed by the public for supplying their services as MLA’s to the public, through Stormont.
    2. MLA’s as are MP’s are allowed “privilege” when making “disconcerting” comments within the confines of the Chamber. This offense did not take place there but in a TV Studio.
    3. The offender was acting in his own right and not even as a Minister or official spokesman for any recognised body and therefore should be answerable for his own actions.
    4. I understand there maybe well be and indeed should be Public Liability and Employers Liability cover in force for all staff working on behalf of the Stormont Administration – the offender was working on behalf of himself.
    5. Some articles refer to “Public” or “General” Liability Insurance which is completely different to Professional Indemnity Insurance(PII). PII is intended to cover those professional people such as accountants (refer to KPMG!), solicitors and the like, to protect them against wrongful decisions, advice given or actions taken with or on behalf of clients. In view of this and 4. above, I would query whether there is indeed PII in force but in fact only General Liability which indeed should not extend to cover MLA’s as they are not employees. I would love to see the policy wording to comment further on this.
    6. Sinn Fein are considering recovering their loss of £80,000 for a unfair dismissal claim by one of their members. Virtually any insurance policy requires a claim to be notified to them as soon as the Insured is aware of the occurrence which may give rise to a potential claim. This incident took place some time ago and I believe that if any PII cover exists, insurers should repudiate any claim due to failure by Sinn Fein to notify them of a potential loss. Be assured, if it was a member of the public trying to “back claim” for any incident, it would immediately be “thrown out” – any other action would surely show favouritism by any potential insurers.

    I hope this helps.

  • carl marks

    Obviously we want to know the range of cover given to MLA’s. Does it include legal fees as well as payouts are all libel cases covered or are there some sort of selection process involved and if so what are the criteria for selection and who does the selecting?
    Are MLA’s covered for costs involving any other type of civil or criminal cases?
    Are SPADS or press officers also covered?
    Have any other cases of libel been paid for by this system?

  • observational

    few comments left / changes made…. I had been considering sending one in myself but you just saved me the hassle Mick!

    It was me that fixed the formatting by the way. sorry.

  • sbelfastunionist

    Mick

    Why is it addressed to Peter and Martin? Surely, they are reponsible for the executive, and this request should be for the Assembly Commission or its permanent secretary or Chief exec or equivalent who would be responsible for provisions for Members.

    Interested to see what reply you get, specifically whether there was a specific effort to ensure insurance coverage for libel rather than just purchasing a public liability policy. I would have thought MLAs are technically classed as employees. They receive pay and allowances from a public body which are set centrally.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well why not change it then? I addressed it to whom it may concern, so someone else has changed it. Accuracy and effectiveness is of the utmost importance.

  • sbelfastunionist

    Apologies Mick. Fair point.

  • sherdy

    Mick, – Can’t help you with the drafting of your document, but maybe you could let me know the name of this uniquely benevolent insurance company which throws in extra cover for apparently no extra cost.
    Maybe the British Insurers’ Association would like to have their name also, as one of their number showing generosity would be totally against their credo.

  • Comrade Stalin

    zoot01,

    fascinating – very interesting to read your professional insight. It all makes sense.

    MLA’s are Self Employed and are therefore surely responsible for arranging their own insurance – they are not employed by Stormont but as I understand it

    This is interesting. I had always assumed that for tax and employment law purposes they were “employed” by the Assembly Commission. However it sounds like they are in fact employed in the way a private sector company might employ contractors.

  • Tangi65

    As an FOI request with 11 questions it could be refused on the grounds of cost. The normal standard is I think about 16 hours work required to answer the question, is set at £500.00. It is better to ask no more than 5 questions in one request. Another request can then be issued based on the reply. Just a thought

  • Mick Fealty

    Good point. And think we should carry that forward to the final draft. Might be best to get people to use the comment field to suggest a maximum five relevant questions?

  • FOIreland

    Mick, be prepared to play Transparency Tennis on this – you may need to come back with a new response based on the info you get. Also, a refusal can be followed up with a review request, then an appeal to the commissioner. That’s how the game is played.

    On costs, have a look at my blog post on the subject at http://foreland.blogspot.ie.

  • FOIreland

    Sorry – correct address for that post on FOI cost limits:

    http://foreland.blogspot.ie

  • FOIreland

    Perils of autocorrect, part 3:

    http://foireland.blogspot.ie

  • Why not just ask for a copy of the insurance policy – surely that of itself is a matter of public record and interest. Then ask the questions. Simples.

  • As a former FOI officer, I can tell you that the dissenter is right – your first approach should be to ask for a copy of the policy.

    When drafting an FOI request, it’s essential to consider how the information you are looking for is recorded. In this case, the key document will be the policy itself. It’s probably best to wait and see it before asking related questions – the document will probably prompt some further ones. Most of the questions you’ve asked are not requests for recorded information – or at least are not phrased as such.

    In addition to the policy, you’ll probably want to ask for details of the procurement process – policies / procedures, emails etc. I would suggest you draft these a separate enquiries (bear in mind that they may be ‘aggregated’ as a single request when costs are considered).

    There’s a slight possibility that the Assembly might refuse to provide the document as the law confers the right to information, not records – but they should not take that approach. If they do, a slight rephrasing will work.

    More likely, they will want to withhold some or all of the document as being commercially sensitive. This is a common approach, but they would need to show that refusal would harm the organization (or the insurer) somehow. That’s difficult to justify in the case of a public authority such as this; the only sensitive details they would be entitled to withhold would be pricing data. But in a specialist policy such as this, that might not apply.

    As I’ve said, you may well need to press the Assembly for an internal review if they fall back on the commercial sensitivity argument. But it’s best to wait and see.

  • Just to plug my updated post on the cost limit again: here’s the actual entry:

    http://foireland.blogspot.ie/2013/04/the-cost-of-knowing.html

  • tacapall

    Getting interesting –

    “Sinn Fein may ask for use of cover to pay for lost case!

    http://www.irishnews.com/news/sinn-fein-may-ask-for-use-of-cover-to-pay-for-lost-case-1248867

  • Mick Fealty

    Right, I’ve gone with FOI Ireland’s suggested brief wording…

    You can see the text and follow the response and response time here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/details_of_public_liability_insu#outgoing-269264

    All contributions to the text are still there on the Google doc. I suggest we revisit those when we get the response. I will let you know if they press for a charge… http://goo.gl/FhLmP

  • Mick Fealty
  • Mick,

    you’ve had a response:

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/details_of_public_liability_insu#incoming-392151

    They have provided the insurance contract, and the tendering documents, and promised the rest by the end of the week – slightly overdue, but forgivable, I would say.

    I suspect the answers will lead to further questions …

  • Mick Fealty

    Good news!!! Someone tell the Information Commissioner!!