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Info Tribunal appeals to split from January

New two-tier system for ICO appeals

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People appealing against rulings by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) will face a new tribunal structure from January next year. The Information Tribunal, which hears appeals on ICO rulings, will become part of a wider system.

Under the new regime, which awaits Parliamentary approval, very serious or very complex cases will be sent to a more senior tribunal straight away, while a junior tribunal hears more everyday cases.

The ICO makes rulings on whether or not there have been breaches of the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. People or organisations who disagree with those rulings appeal to the Information Tribunal.

In January the Information Tribunal will transfer over to the General Regulatory Chamber (GRC), which is one part of a new unified tribunals service. This is part of a Government plan to centralise and standardise regulation. The tax and land tribunals are already part of the new structure.

For the first time there will be a two-tiered Information Tribunal. The First-tier Tribunal will hear most cases, and it will be possible to appeal those rulings to the Administrative Appeals chamber of the Upper Tribunal.

Some cases, though, will go straight to that Upper Tribunal, the Tribunals Service said.

"For some information rights appeals, cases will be heard in the first instance in the Upper Tribunal," said Mike Watson, the Tribunals Service officer in charge of the GRC plans in a letter to Tribunal users. "This will occur where it is considered that the appeal raises complex or unusual issues and the importance of the case would merit it being dealt with in the higher Tribunal."

The new structure avoids the High Court, which used to hear appeals on Information Tribunal rulings. Appeals from the First-tier Tribunal will be heard by the Upper Tribunal, and appeals from the Upper Tribunal will be heard by the Court of Appeal.

The Tribunals Service said that the changes are scheduled to take place in January 2010.

A Tribunals Service letter outlining the changes can be read here (pdf).

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