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Scottish Information Commissioner rules that Conservative Parliamentary leader's taxi destinations should be released

Image of filing Cabinet with documents flying out of itNEWS RELEASE: Friday 7 October 2005, for immediate use.

Scottish Information Commissioner rules that Conservative Parliamentary leader?s taxi destinations should be released

The Scottish Information Commissioner today (Friday 7 October) announced his decision that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) should release further details of the travel expense claims made by David McLetchie MSP, the leader of the Scottish Conservative MSPs. The decision was issued following an appeal by Paul Hutcheon of the Sunday Herald newspaper, which queried the SPCB?s decision to withhold details of the destination of Mr McLetchie?s taxi journeys.

Mr Hutcheon requested details of Mr McLetchie?s annual travel expense claims from May 1999 to March 2004. While the SPCB provided him with copies of the claims, it withheld certain information, including Mr McLetchie?s taxi destinations. In doing so, the SPCB argued that the release of this information could compromise Mr McLetchie?s safety and security. Mr Hutcheon appealed the decision to withhold these destination details.

Following detailed consideration of the disputed information, the Commissioner was not satisfied that releasing the destinations of taxi journeys undertaken by Mr McLetchie would endanger the MSP. While Mr McLetchie?s safety could potentially be endangered if the release of the information would allow third parties to predict his movements, the Commissioner?s investigating staff painstakingly extracted the information from almost 800 taxi journeys and found that there was no pattern evident from the expense claims which would allow such predictions. The Commissioner also noted that much of the information was now out of date. Furthermore the SPCB had not indicated any specific reasons as to why Mr McLetchie may be at risk.

Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner said:

    ?In ordering the release of this information I have carefully considered the particular circumstances of this case. Under freedom of information legislation each case must be considered on its own merits, and it is clear to me that, in this instance, there is no basis to the SPCB?s claim that Mr McLetchie might be put at risk by the release of his past taxi destinations. There may well be other cases where the release of information of this type could compromise the safety of a public figure, and, where this is so, the information should not be released. However, in this case I find that the information should be released.?

The SPCB have 42 days to appeal against the Commissioner?s decision to the Court of Session on a point of law only.

Ends

For further information contact Claire Sigsworth or Paul Mutch on 01334 464610, out of hours, 07976 511752

More follows/ Notes to Editors

Notes to Editors:

1) Summary of Decision

  • Paul Hutcheon, Scottish Political Editor of the Sunday Herald, initially requested a copy of Mr McLetchie?s travel claims for 2001-2004. Mr Hutcheon subsequently submitted a separate request for Mr McLetchie?s travel claims for 1999-2001. Given that the requests sought the same information over differing time periods, Mr Hutcheon?s applications to the Commissioner were conjoined, and considered under one decision notice.
  • The SPCB informed the Commissioner that the taxi destination details were refused under section 38(1)(b) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, stating that the information was personal data, and its release would breach the first data protection principle. The SPCB indicated that release would be unfair as it would expose Mr McLetchie to an unnecessary risk to his personal safety. The SPCB also stated that section 39(1) applied, which exempts information if its release would, or would be likely to, endanger the health or safety of an individual.
  • The Commissioner found that, while the information was indeed personal data, its release would not breach the data protection principles. The Commissioner was also not satisfied that the release of the information would endanger Mr McLetchie?s health or safety.

2) The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

  • The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) provides a statutory right of access to all information held by Scottish public authorities. This right came into effect on 1 January 2005.
  • Around 10,000 public authorities in Scotland are covered by FOISA. They include the Scottish Parliament and Executive, police forces, the NHS, local authorities, education institutions, and publicly owned companies.
  • Information can only be withheld by a public authority if it falls under one of the exemptions listed in FOISA.
  • If an individual believes an authority is wrong to withhold information, they ultimately have a right of appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner, who can force release.

3) The Scottish Information Commissioner

  • Kevin Dunion the Scottish Information Commissioner is a fully independent public official, appointed by the Queen on the nomination of the Scottish Parliament.
  • His duties and powers are to ensure that people get the information from Scottish public authorities to which they are entitled.
  • His role actively promotes and enforces compliance with FOISA.
  • He has to date issued 33 formal decisions.

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