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Word 'research' circled in dictionaryCommissioner found that request to Stirling University was not vexatious

Press statement: 1 September 2011

The Commissioner received an appeal from Philip Morris International in relation to a request it had made to University of Stirling for the findings of a pilot study into the effects of plain packaging on tobacco use by young adults. The University refused it on the grounds they believed it was vexatious. They argued that it would impose a significant burden on the University to respond, and in addition was of no serious purpose of value and had the effect of harassing the University and disturbing its work.

The Commissioner concluded, following an investigation, that, while the request would indeed place a significant burden on the University, that this in itself was insufficient to accept the request was vexatious. He went on to look at other considerations. He considered that there was a legitimate reason for the request, and therefore it had purpose and value, and that the tone of language used by Philip Morris International, while arguably "exasperated", was not abusive.  He also rejected the University's arguments that the request was designed to disrupt or annoy the University ? while Philip Morris International may not agree with the project, it does not follow that a request or information relating to it is designed to disrupt or annoy the University.

The Commissioner has not ordered the University to release the information. He found that the request was not vexatious, and ordered the University to make a substantive response to Philip Morris International.  A substantive response could include release of the information in part or whole, or a refusal to release the information along with an explanation of why, under the provisions of the FOI Act, the University believes this to be the correct course of action ? for example the University may conclude that an exemption applies or that it is too costly to respond.

ENDS

For further information contact the Commissioner's Media Team on 01334 464610, out of hours on 07976 511752, or email media@itspublicknowledge.info

Notes to editors

About the Scottish Information Commissioner

  • Kevin Dunion was appointed as the first Scottish Information Commissioner in February 2003. In February 2008 he was reappointed for a second, and final term, for four years until 2012.
  • He is responsible for enforcing and promoting Scotland's freedom of information laws.  Kevin has now entered his final year as Commissioner.
  • Kevin is Co-Director of the Centre for Freedom of Information, a joint venture with the Dundee School of Law. He is also Rector of the University of St Andrews.

About the decision

See the full decision at Decision 129/2011 Philip Morris International and University of Stirling was issued on 30 June 2011. The Commissioner's decision was as follows:

The Commissioner finds that the University of Stirling (the University) failed to comply with Part 1 (and in particular section 1(1)) of FOISA in refusing to comply with Philip Morris International's request for information under section 14(1) of FOISA.

The Commissioner also found that the University's request for clarification under section 1(3) of FOISA was unreasonable and that, given this fact, the University breached section 10(1) of FOISA in responding to the request.

The Commissioner also found that the University of Stirling did not fulfil its duty under section 15 of FOISA in relation to providing advice and assistance to Philip Morris International.

The Commissioner therefore requires the University of Stirling to respond to Philip Morris International's request for information in terms of Part 1 of FOISA, other than in terms of section 14(1), by 15 August 2011.

 

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