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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 15 to 19 September 2014

 

 

We published eight decisions between 15 and 19 September 2014 – details, links and learning points below.

         Key messages:

  • A search in time saves nine
    Two of our decisions this week, both involving the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), highlighted problems with searches.  In one case, Decision 192/2014, the SPS found additional information during our investigation because it hadn’t carried out adequate searches to start with.  In the other, Decision 196/2014, the SPS told the requester that the information he wanted was exempt from disclosure.  It was only during the investigation, when the SPS looked for it, that it realised it didn’t actually hold the information.  As noted in previous round-ups, this meant that the SPS should have issued an “information not held” notice under section 17 instead of applying an exemption.

     

  • Is the requirement for review valid?
    Problems can arise for requesters if a public authority carries out a review when the request for review (RFR) isn’t valid: if it isn’t valid and the case comes to us on appeal, we can’t carry out an investigation.  Authorities need to check an RFR complies with section 20(3).  If it doesn’t, authorities must tell the requester what they have to do to make a valid RFR.  In Decision 193/2014, the authority carried out a review when the RFR didn’t say why the requester was dissatisfied with the response.  This meant the RFR wasn’t valid and we were unable to carry out an investigation. 

 

  • Be careful not to interpret requests too narrowly
    Authorities need to take a reasonable approach when interpreting information requests.  In Decision 195/2014, the Council was asked for information about the predicted level of tram fares in future years.  The Council did not hold precise figures, so told the requester, it didn’t hold the information.  However, what the Council did hold was assumptions about what the annual fare increases would be.  We considered that information to be covered by the request.
     

    Decisions issued:

  • Decision 192/2014 Mr Q and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
    Mr Q asked the SPS about the reporting of telephone faults. The SPS provided some information to Mr Q.  During the investigation, we found that the SPS held more information than it had provided to Mr Q. 

  • Decision 193/2014 John McLean and the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB)
    Mr McLean asked the SPCB about how it had handled previous correspondence from him.  The SPCB responded to what was in fact an invalid requirement for review.  When Mr McLean then made a valid requirement for review, the SPCB did not respond, because a review had previously been carried out.  However, we found that the SPCB must carry out a new review. 

  • Decision 194/2014 Mr X and the Scottish Ministers
    This case involved a request for the legal advice the Ministers had obtained on the “named person” provisions in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill.  We found that the Ministers were entitled to refuse to disclose the legal advice.  We recognised there was a strong public interest in the disclosure of the information, but, on balance, the public interest in maintaining legal privilege was stronger.  This was strengthened by the fact that judicial review proceedings had been raised against the Bill.

 

  • Decision 195/2014 Chris Millar and the City of Edinburgh Council
    Mr Millar asked the Council how much it predicted tram fares would cost in the future.  Mr Millar was dissatisfied with the Council’s response.  As a result of our investigation, the Council provided more information to Mr Millar.  By the end the investigation, we were satisfied that the Council had given Mr Millar all of the information it held.

 

  • Decision 196/2014 Mr R and the Scottish Prison Service
    The SPS told Mr R that he could reasonably obtain the information he wanted without making an FOI request for it – if correct, this meant that the SPS did not have to provide him with the information (see the exemption in section 25 of the FOI Act).  However, during the investigation, the SPS told us that it didn’t actually hold the information – this meant that, instead of applying an exemption, it should have notified Mr R that it didn’t hold the information.

 

  • Decision 197/2014 Paul Hutcheon and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS)
    This involved a request about gifts, hospitality and expenses received by Board Members, and claimed expenses.  SFRS failed to respond to Mr Hutcheon’s request or his request for review within 20 working days.

 

  • Decision 198/2014 Michael McGovern and Glasgow City Council
    Mr McGovern asked the Council about waste collection and disposal, but the Council failed to respond to Mr McGovern’s request or his request for review on time.

 

  • Decision 199/2014 Taylor Smith and East Dunbartonshire Council
    Here, the Council failed to respond to a request about literacy statistics.  The decision orders the Council to respond to Miss Smith.

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