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Decisions Round-up: 14 to 18 November 2016

 

 

This week's round-up warns against making assumptions about the knowledge a requester has about the information held.  We also consider the quality of searches and the importance of disclosing information as quickly as possible.

Learning points:

  •  Information should be disclosed as soon as possible
    Authorities can often discover more information covered by a request during our investigation, or decide that there is no longer a good reason to withhold information.  In these situations, it is good practice to provide the information to the requester without further delay, instead of waiting for a formal decision from the Commissioner.  This happened in two of this week's cases (decisions 244/2016 and 245/2016). 

 

  • Authorities should help requesters understand their decision
    In Decision 244/2016, the authority didn't explain why the information it held was "internal communications" or make clear which parts of the request the information related to. Instead, it assumed that the requester would know this.  Requesters will not usually understand the information covered by their request as well as the authority which holds it.  They may also expect the authority to hold more information than it does. Authorities must provide enough explanation to help the requester understand the response - providing reasonable advice and assistance is an FOI requirement.

 

  • Searches must stand up to scrutiny
    We normally ask authorities for evidence that their searches have been thorough and capable of retrieving all information covered by a request. It may not be enough that staff were asked to search their files.  Did they respond? Can you show that the searches took place? Decision 241/2016 looks at a case where the quality of searches was important.

    The Section 60 Code provides advice on carrying out searches and keeping records of the process. Module 2 of our Self-Assessment Toolkit covers "Searching for, locating and retrieving information" - this will also help you evaluate and (if necessary) improve practice in this area.

 

  • Avoid unnecessary decisions - respond in time
    In three of this week's cases, authorities failed to comply with the timescales for response.  After the Commissioner's special report in 2014, the number of "Failure to respond" decisions fell - but they seem to be increasing again.  Most of these decisions were avoidable.

    Where we see a regular pattern of failure to respond in time, we may take action under our Intervention procedures. We have contacted two authorities recently requiring improvements to be made.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 237/2016 Peter Cherbi and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Cherbi asked for information about the stepping down of the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General and the appointment of their successors.  We found that the Ministers failed to respond within the twenty working day limit.

 

  • Decision 238/2016 Ralph Holland and North Ayrshire Council
    The Council was asked for a list of approved contractors who lower kerbs for vehicle access.  It disclosed a list of six contractors, but Mr Holland thought more information should have been provided.

    After investigating, we accepted that the Council had disclosed all of the relevant recorded information it held.

 

  • Decisions 239/2016 Anne Lindsay and Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator(OSCR)
    OSCR was asked for a specific letter it had received.  It withheld the information under exemptions relating to law enforcement and personal information. We accepted that OSCR was entitled to withhold all of the information, which was personal data.

 

  • Decisions 240/2016 The Applicant and Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator(OSCR)
    OSCR was asked for information about Central Borders Citizens Advice Bureau.  We accepted that OSCR did not hold this information, as it had told the requester.

 

  • Decisions 241/2016 Carolyn Neilson and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
    Mrs Neilson asked for information about a Significant Clinical Incident investigation and report.  NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde disclosed some information, withheld some and told her that it did not hold other information.

    We agreed that some information should be withheld, but found that the authority had failed to identify all the information it held.  It had also wrongly withheld some information as personal data and had failed to meet the timescales for responding.

 

  • Decisions 242/2016 Marc Ellison and Police Scotland
    Police Scotland were asked for the raw data from a Stop and Search officer confidence survey.

    It disclosed some information and withheld the remainder under the exemptions relating to the harm to public affairs and personal information.  We agreed that Police Scotland were entitled to withhold this information.

 

  • Decisions 243/2016 The Applicant and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
    COPFS was asked about its employment of non-Caucasian people.  It failed to respond to both the request and request for review within the FOI timescales. We required it to respond.

 

  • Decisions 244/2016 Cemex UK Operations Ltd and the Scottish Ministers
    The Ministers were asked for information about planning permission for works at Hyndford Quarry, Lanark, they withheld some internal communications. We found that this information should be disclosed in the public interest.  By the time the request was made, the advice had been acted upon and it was unlikely that disclosure would cause real harm.  We also found that the Ministers had failed to provide reasonable advice and assistance, to help the requestor understand the information.

 

  • Decisions 245/2016 Company A and Aberdeen City Council
    The Council was asked for information about its pension fund investments, including whether it had sold any interests in the private equity secondaries market and, if so, at what discount to Net Asset Value (NAV).

    The Council initially withheld information about the discount to NAV, arguing that it was confidential.  During our investigation, it decided to disclose the information.

 

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