"The information commissioner has demanded that the Home Office release information about the number of pregnant women who

Home Office ordered to release information on pregnant women in detention

The information commissioner has demanded that the Home Office release information about the number of pregnant women who've been held in immigration detention centres, after they repeatedly refused to answer requests from campaigners.

The development comes a day after the Independent reported that the Home Office was refusing to reveal how many detainees had been sexually assaulted or raped in Yarl's Wood. The department cited the "commercial interests" of the private companies that run the centre.

That is exactly the same reason which was given to Women for Refugee Women when they started firing off requests for information about pregnant women in February. The Home Office responded on the last day of the 20 day time limit citing the commercial interests defence.

This was nonsense and by the time the group again demanded the information in April, the Home Office had dropped it and instead claimed it couldn't provide it because it was 'management data'. That was also nonsense. By this point the Home Office had taken well over the 20 working days it is entitled to before answering the request, so Women for Refugee Women issued a formal complaint to the information commissioner.

The commissioner then contacted the Home Office on May 19th asking for it to respond to the request in the next 10 working days. The Home Office did not respond.

"In this case the Home Office has breached sections 1(1) and 10(1) [of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)] by failing to respond substantively to the request within 20 working days," the commissioner's ruling reads. "The Home Office is now required to respond to the complainant’s request in accordance with the FOIA.

"As well as issuing this notice, the commissioner has made a separate record of the failure by the Home Office to respond to the complainant’s request. This issue may be revisited should evidence from other cases suggest that this is necessary."

The Home Office seems to be intent on hiding behind a veil of secrecy around the way it treats detainees, particularly in the case of women. But sustained press attention, official rulings from the information commissioner and the persistent work of campaign groups suggest it won't be able to hold out much longer.

Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners