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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 13 - 17 March 2017

This week we have a good example of why it's important to respond on time. With no response at all from an authority, the requester loses their chance to ask questions and make their point at review. Problems like misinterpreting the request can be missed, causing both the authority and the requester to do more work than is necessary. There are also cases where earlier action to identify environmental information and disclose redacted information would have benefitted everyone.

Learning points:

  • Responding promptly may save unnecessary work
    In Decision 029/2017 the public authority didn't respond on time to either the request or the request for review. This meant that problems with its interpretation of the request did not come to light until a very late stage, after the Commissioner had issued a Decision  about the failure to respond, and some 8 months after the request was originally made. Once the authority understood what the requester really wanted, it was happy to disclose all of the information. If it had responded on time, the requester would have been able to raise concerns about the interpretation when making their request for review, and the case might have been resolved at that stage.
  • Can some information be disclosed?
    In Decision 031/2017, the authority disclosed a redacted (blacked-out) report during our investigation of the case (having withheld everything in its responses to the requester). We found that it should have provided the redacted report when first responding to the request. Authorities should always consider whether any part of the withheld information can be disclosed.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 028/2017 Severin Carrell and Shetland Islands Council
    The Council refused to disclose some information relating to the contract for the new Anderson High School in Lerwick on the basis that it was exempt from disclosure under the FOI Act (commercial interests exemption). We found that the request was for environmental information and ordered the Council to reconsider the request under the EIRs.
  • Decision 029/2017 City of Brechin and District Community Council and Angus Council
    This Decision follows Decision 227/2016 which found that Angus Council had not responded to the request on time. The Council then withheld information about the value of Common Good assets. During our investigation, it became apparent that the Council had not interpreted the request in the way intended by the Community Council. We accepted that its response complied with the EIRs, as there was no obvious ambiguity in the request. However, the problems in this case could have been avoided if the Council had responded within the required timescales to the request and request for review, allowing clarification to be sought at an early stage.
  • Decision 030/2017 Harald Tobermann and Argyll and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Tobermann asked for a list of applications made with the assistance of the Scottish Government to the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund. We found that the Ministers failed to respond to the request and request for review within the FOI Act's 20 working day timescales.
  • Decision 031/2017 John Cairney and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
    The SPS was asked about the receipt of anonymous letters, and the actions it had taken. It disclosed some information, but Mr Cairney believed that more should be provided. We found that the SPS had carried out appropriate searches, had disclosed all relevant information, and was able to explain why it didn't hold any more information.
  • Decision 032/2017 Robert M Patterson and the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland
    Mr Patterson asked for information about changes to a property title. We found that the Keeper failed to respond to Mr Patterson's request for review within the FOI Act's timescales.
  • Decision 033/2017 David Bryce and Police Scotland
    Mr Bryce asked for information about police attendance at a pro-independence march. Initially, the Police withheld all information, but later disclosed a redacted version of a debrief report.

    We found that the redacted report should have been disclosed when responding to the request. We accepted that disclosure of information about the number or rank of officers attending the march would be likely to substantially prejudice the prevention or detection of crime, by indicating Police Scotland's capacity to respond to incidents at similar times in the future.

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