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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 2 to 13 June 2014

 

 

We published eight decisions between 2 and 13 June 2014 – here are the key learning points along with summaries and links to each decision.

 

Key messages:

  • If the cost of responding exceeds £600, the Commissioner can’t require an authority to respond
    Even where there might be a strong public interest in a response being given, the Commissioner can’t make the authority respond where the cost limit applies.  This was the outcome in Decision 114/2014.

     

  • Even where you’re arguing that you can’t confirm or deny whether you hold the information, we still need reasons
    We may not be able to say much about these reasons in the decision, but we still need to be persuaded that the public interest lies in not confirming or denying.  In Decision 116/2014, we didn’t believe we’d been given convincing reasons for the refusal.

     

  • If another piece of legislation prohibits disclosure, we can’t make the authority disclose under FOI
    Under the FOI Act, there’s nothing we can do to make an authority disclose information where disclosure is prohibited by other legislation. This applies even if there’s a strong public interest in disclosure.  This isn’t the case under the EIRs, where there’s no equivalent. 

     

  • Organisations may be covered by the EIRs even though they’re not covered by the FOI Act.
    Decision 118/2014 concerns a request for environmental information which was made to a Housing Association. The important factors in this case were that the request was for environmental information, and that the Housing Association met the wider definition of a public authority in the EIRs. 

     

  • A request might seem reasonable, but context is everything.
    If requests are part of voluminous and persistent ongoing correspondence, they may be “vexatious” even though, when seen on their own, they might appear to be reasonable. In Decision 119/2014, we found that although it was reasonable for a campaigning organisation to ask for information relating to their concerns, the tone and frequency of their communications had become unreasonable.

     

  • Make sure your review procedure is appropriate
    Internal reviews must consider the issues raised by the requester and must be responded to, in full, within 20 working days. This includes implementing any decision reached on review.  This had not happened in Decision 113/2014.

     

  • Information requests and requests for review must be answered within 20 working days.
    Failure to respond within 20 working days is likely to lead to a decision against your authority, which could have been avoided.

 

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 113/2014 Mr Robert Sells and Aberdeenshire Council
    A decision finding that the Council failed to carry out a proper review.  We required it to do so.

      

  • Decision 114/2014 Mr Rab Wilson and NHS National Services Scotland
    NHS National Services refused to provide information because it would exceed the £600 upper limit under the FOI Act. Following our investigation, we agreed with the authority’s cost estimate.  

      

  • Decision 115/2014 Mr Sergio Sabato and Highland Health Board
    A decision finding that the authority failed to respond to Mr Sabato’s request for review within the required 20 working days.

      

  • Decision 116/2014 Mr Tom Taylor and the Chief Constable of Police Scotland
    The Commissioner did not accept Police Scotland’s refusal to confirm or deny that it held the information requested by Mr Taylor.  We found that the background to the request was already in the public domain as a result of an external complaint investigation. Police Scotland failed to provide convincing reasons why refusing to confirm or deny was in the public interest in this case.

     

  • Decision 117/2014 Ms G and Argyll & Bute Council
    In line with previous decisions, the Commissioner found that provisions of the Enterprise Act 2002 prohibited disclosure of the information requested by Ms G.  This meant that the Council was entitled to withhold the information under the FOI Act.

      

  • Decision 118/2014 Mr X and Dunbritton Housing Association Ltd.
    Mr X asked for information about the transfer of property from a local authority to Dunbritton Housing Association. Although Dunbritton is not listed in the FOI Act, following our investigation we found that it was a Scottish public authority for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (the EIRs). We found that some of the withheld information was environmental information. Therefore, we ordered Dunbritton to carry out a review and to inform Mr X of the outcome.  

      

  • Decision 119/2014 Scotland for Animals and the Scottish Ministers
    Scotland for Animals asked the Ministers for correspondence about the Cross Party Group on Animal Welfare. In this decision, we explore in some detail why we accepted that the request should be dealt with as vexatious.  

     

  • Decision 120/2014 Lyndsey Buckland and the Scottish Ministers
    In this decision, we found that the authority failed to respond to the information request and request for review within the required 20 working day timescales.

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