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Supreme Court ImageCommissioner welcomes Supreme Court ruling on Council pay data

 

News release: 29 July 2013

The Scottish Information Commissioner is very pleased with today's [29 July 2013] landmark judgment by the Supreme Court. The Court ruled in the Commissioner's favour, that information relating to South Lanarkshire Council's staff pay structure should be released into the public domain. The judgment is the first considered by the Supreme Court under Scotland's freedom of information (FOI) law and brings an end to a long-running FOI case which arose following the Council's refusal to disclose the information in June 2010.

The case involved detailed consideration of the relationship between an individual's right of access to information under FOI, and the duty to protect personal data under the Data Protection Act 1998.

Welcoming the judgment, Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew said:

"I am pleased that the ruling by the Supreme Court supports our own carefully considered conclusions on this case. While the relationship between FOI and data protection law can be complex, the Supreme Court's ruling confirms the robustness of our approach and is a clear guide to how similar cases should be handled by Scottish public authorities.

"Importantly the ruling also means that the requester can, at long last, receive the information to which he is entitled."

The requester, Mr Mark Irvine, sought details of the number of people placed at specific points on South Lanarkshire Council's pay structure. The Council at first refused the request, arguing that it was "vexatious". It later argued that disclosure would, in its view, enable the identification of individual members of staff. Following investigation of Mr Irvine's appeal, the Commissioner issued a decision requiring disclosure of the information. The Council appealed this decision to the Court of Session, which also found in favour of disclosure. The case was subsequently appealed by the Council to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court's judgment of 29 July 2013 orders that the Council's appeal be dismissed, and requires the Council to pay the Commissioner's costs.

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:

The Supreme Court judgment:

Today's judgement is available on the Supreme Court website at: www.supremecourt.gov.uk/news/latest-judgments.html. The Supreme Court's website also contains a press summary in relation to the case.

The Court of Session ruling:

The Court of Session's ruling on the case from 18 March 2011 is available at: www.supremecourt.gov.uk/current-cases/CCCaseDetails/case_2012_0126.html

The Commissioner's decision:

The Commissioner's ruling on this case was published in Decision 056/2011. The decision is available at: www.itspublicknowledge.info/applicationsanddecisions/Decisions/2011/201001957.aspx

Case timeline:

10 May 2010 - Mr Mark Irvine requests information on the number of posts of a certain grade at a particular point on the Council's pay structure.

11-21 May 2010 - Mr Irvine requests further information relating to the number of posts of the same grade at other points on the pay structure.

1 June 2010 - The Council refuses Mr Irvine's request, informing him that it considered the requests to be "vexatious". Section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 contains a provision allowing requests to be refused where they are vexatious.

7-18 June 2010 - Mr Irvine asks the Council to review its handling of his requests.

6 July 2010 - The Council responds to Mr Irvine, upholding its decision that his requests were vexatious.

12 July 2010 - Mr Irvine makes an application for decision to the Scottish Information Commissioner. During the Commissioner's investigation the Council withdraws its reliance on the section 14(1) "vexatious" provision, and informs Mr Irvine that it considered the information to be exempt under the FOI provision that protects personal information (section 38(1)(b)). The Council argues that disclosure of the information would lead to the identification of individual employees.

17 March 2011 - The Commissioner's findings are issued in Decision 056/2011 (see above). In summary, this finds that the Council had wrongly applied the exemption in section 38(1)(b),and requires the withheld information to be disclosed to Mr Irvine. The Commissioner's decisions can be appealed to the Court of Session on a point of law.

4 May 2011 - South Lanarkshire Council appeal the Commissioner's decision to the Court of Session.

23-24 February 2012 - The Court of Session hearing takes place.

27 March 2012 - The Court of Session issues its ruling (see above), which refuses the Council's appeal against the Commissioner's decision.

4 May 2012 - The Council lodges an appeal with the Supreme Court.

8 July 2013 - The Supreme Court hearing takes place.

29 July 2013 - The Supreme Court issues its ruling (see above), dismissing the appeal and requiring the Council to pay the Commissioner's costs.

The Scottish Information Commissioner

The Scottish Information Commissioner is a public official appointed by Her Majesty the Queen on the nomination of the Scottish Parliament.

The Commissioner is responsible for promoting and enforcing Scotland's freedom of information laws.

The Commissioner: investigates applications and issues legally enforceable decisions; promotes good practice amongst public authorities; and provides the pubic with information on their rights.

The current Scottish Information Commissioner is Rosemary Agnew.

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