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Filing cabinet with papers flying outDecisions Round-up: 13 to 17 August 2012

We published four new decisions this week, three of which contain important learning points for Scottish public authorities and requesters.

 

Key messages

  • Authorities can, in some circumstances, treat multiple interconnected questions on a single issue as a single request

Authorities cannot add separate requests together when deciding whether the ?600 upper cost limit for an FOI request has been met. However, there are occasions where multiple requests made in the same correspondence are so interconnected that they may be considered as a single request. This was the case in one decision published this week, where we concluded that separating information to respond to the various interrelated questions set by the requester would be a wholly artificial exercise. In these circumstance, it was appropriate to treat those questions as a single request for cost purposes.

  • When considering whether a request is vexatious, take care how you consider the pattern of previous correspondence with the requester

There is no single definition of a vexatious request, and you must examine the circumstances of each relevant request on a case-by-case basis. Previous correspondence may sometimes be a factor. However, it is unlikely to be the volume that is the determining factor, rather the nature, context and subject matter of the requests when considered together as part of a series of communications.

  • Authorities should ensure they provide the information sought when responding to requests

Authorities should respond to requests by either providing all the requested information, or by setting out why, under the legislation, they are entitled to refuse the request. Information should not be summarised or abridged unless the requester has specifically asked for it in that format. While FOI does not require that copies of documents are provided, this is often the most effective (and easiest) way to respond. If an authority does plan to extract information from a document, it should ensure that all non-exempt information is reproduced fully and accurately, and clear reasoning is given in relation to any information that is withheld.

Summary of Decisions

  • Authority correctly refused a request on cost grounds (Decision 134/2012 Mr S and the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission)

Mr S asked the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (the SCCRC) for information about applications it had considered. Some information was provided, but the SCCRC considered that the cost of providing the remainder would exceed the ?600 upper limit for an FOI request. Following investigation, the Commissioner accepted this argument. While the requester had divided his request into multiple questions, the Commissioner concluded that the interconnected nature of these specific requests meant that it was appropriate to consider the questions as a single request for cost purposes.

  • Constabulary were right to determine that a series of requests were vexatious (Decision 133/2012 Mr A and Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary)

Mr A made a series of requests to Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary for information relating to certain police reports. The requests came as part of a pattern of communication on the same subject dating back over 30 years. The Constabulary refused the requests, arguing that they were vexatious. The Commissioner agreed that the requests were vexatious, in that responding would impose a significant burden, while also having the effect of harassing the authority.

  • Authority incorrectly provided an abridged summary in response to requests (Decision 131/2012 Mr Tom Taylor and the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police)

Strathclyde Police responded to Mr Taylor's request for correspondence it held on a particular issue by provided him with a summary of that correspondence. This summary disclosed only part of the information to Mr Taylor, and no formal explanation was provided as to why other information had been withheld. However, during the Commissioner's investigation redacted ("blacked-out") copies of the correspondence were subsequently provided. The Commissioner's decision concludes that Strathclyde Police had been right to withhold some parts of the correspondence which were personal data, but that other withheld information (including some personal data relating to an individual holding a senior position) should be provided.


 

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