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Decisions Round-up: 13 to 17 October 2014

 We published seven decisions between 13 and 17 October – details, links and learning points below.

Key messages:

  • There won’t always be good reasons for withholding personal data (unless it’s the requester’s)

    There are two main exemptions in the legislation for personal data.  Where the requester is looking for their own personal data, that’s quite straightforward – the law takes the view that the right way of doing this is via the Data Protection Act, so the information can be disclosed to the requester alone under appropriate safeguards.

    Things are rather different where the requester is looking for the personal data of other people.  Disclosure under FOI law is disclosure to the public, so it’s important to balance the benefits of that disclosure against the privacy rights of the individuals whose information it is.  But that doesn’t mean such information should never be disclosed – there will be cases where the balance favours disclosure to the public, particularly (for example) where the information relates to the professional activities of senior public officials.

    These points are illustrated in Decision 213/2014.

  • If you don’t have the information, make sure you tell the requester
    Where it does not hold the information requested, an authority is always required to notify the requester that this is the case.  For this reason, and to be as helpful as possible, it’s important to check what information you have before responding to the request.  This didn’t happen in Decision 215/2014.

 

  • There’s always a strong public interest in protecting legal advice

    The courts have always recognised that there are very good reasons, associated with the effective administration of justice, for keeping legal advice and communications asking for legal advice confidential.  In Decision 218/2014, we looked at a trade union’s request for a QC’s opinion on Glasgow City Council’s proposals for the future of home care services for the elderly.  We acknowledged the union’s argument that the opinion related to matters of considerable public interest, but still found that the stronger public interest was in maintaining confidentiality and withholding the opinion.

      

  • If it’s going to be too costly to respond to the request, make sure you explain why

    The Act allows an authority to refuse a request where responding would cost over £600.  You need to provide robust calculations to do this, with supporting evidence. We weren’t satisfied that the Council had justified its application of the cost limit in Decision 219/2014. In Decision 217/2014 we found that the authority had applied the cost limit correctly. 

     

  • Compliance with timescales is still an issue – but make sure your review request is valid

In Decisions 214/2014 and 216/2014, the authority failed to respond on time.  However, in Decision 214/2014, the authority could only be made to respond to the request for review where the requester had indicated why he was unhappy with the original response – it’s vital that you do this fully when seeking a review.

 

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 213/2014 Mr John Mauger and Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary (HMICS)

    Mr Mauger asked HMICS for a copy of the interim report on HMICS’s investigation into circumstances surrounding senior police officers and the former Central Scotland Joint Police Board.  HMICS withheld the report on the basis that it comprised personal data and was exempt from disclosure in terms of the legislation.

     We found that some of the withheld information was not personal data and required HMICS to disclose this information to Mr Mauger.  Where we found the information was personal data,  we accepted that some of it was exempt because it was Mr Mauger’s own personal data.  We also found that some personal data had been properly withheld.

  • Decision 214/2014 Mr J W H McLean and the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (the SPCB)

    Mr McLean asked the SPCB for information about the handling of his correspondence.  The decision finds that the SPCB failed to respond to Mr McLean’s request for review within the timescale allowed for under the Act.

  • Decision 215/2014 Ms Linda Nicholson and Scottish Borders Council

    Ms Nicholson asked the Council for information about alterations to plans for new sports facilities at Peebles High School.  The Council disclosed some information, claiming other information was exempt. Following our investigation, we found that the Council didn’t hold any information falling within the scope of Ms Nicholson’s request (the information it had disclosed wasn’t covered by the request).

  • Decision 216/2014 Mrs Margaret Scott and East Dunbartonshire Council

    Mrs Scott asked the Council for information about a report.  The Council failed to respond to the request (and Mrs Scott’s subsequent request for review) within the timescales allowed under the Act. 

  • Decision 217/2014 Mr Peter Cherbi and the Scottish Court Service (the SCS)

    Mr Cherbi asked the SCS for information on judicial travel and related expenses.  The SCS provided some information, but claimed that it would cost more the £600 cost limit to comply with the request.  Following an investigation, we accepted this.

    We also accepted that the SCS had interpreted Mr Cherbi’s request appropriately.

  • Decision 218/2014 UNISON Glasgow City Branch and Glasgow City Council

    UNISON asked the Council for a QC’s opinion concerning the Council’s power to implement the recommendations outlined in its Executive Committee report of 17 April 2014.  The Council withheld the information under the exemption relating to legal professional privilege.  Following our investigation, we found that the Council had correctly withheld the information.

Mr Cawthra asked the Council for information relating to a specified route over a period of 15 years.  The Council provided Mr Cawthra with some information, but informed him that it was not obliged to comply with his request as it would cost more than £600 to do so.

Following an investigation, we concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the Council’s cost estimate.  We required the Council to respond again to Mr Cawthra’s request.

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