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Filing cabinet with papers flying outDecisions Round-up: 17 to 21 December 2012

The Commissioner published eleven decisions this week.

 

Key messages:

  • Before concluding that a request is "repeated", think about whether the circumstances have change
    When considering whether a request should be refused under section 14(2) of the FOI Act (repeated requests), think carefully about whether the circumstances are still the same. Has the information changed? Would the exemptions be applied in the same way? If there has been a change of some kind, it may not be appropriate to treat the request as "repeated".

    In Decision 202/2012 an authority accepted on review that a request for a report was not "repeated", as the death of an individual meant that information about that person was no longer exempt under section 38 (personal information). However, in this case, the Commissioner agreed that the relevant information could still be withheld under the exemption for confidential information.

 

  • When assessing the cost of a response, focus on the cost of providing the specific requested information
    When assessing whether or not responding to a request will exceed the FOI Act's upper cost limit of ?600, only consider the cost of providing the specific information requested. It will not be appropriate to consider the cost of reviewing or providing related or peripheral information where that information falls outside the scope of the request. The Commissioner's analysis in Decision 211/2012 may be helpful to authorities considering the application of the excessive cost limit. Our and the FOI Fees Regulations are also essential reading.

Summary of decisions:

  • Decision 211/2012 - Mr David Rule and the Scottish Ministers
    The Commissioner found that Ministers were wrong to refuse Mr Rule's request for details of the engagements of a special adviser, on the grounds that responding to the request would exceed the ?600 upper cost limit. The decision requires Ministers to provide the requested information.

 

  • Decision 212/2012 - Mr N and Aberdeen City Council
    Decision 210/2012 - Mr M and Aberdeen City Council
    Decision 209/2012 - Mr H and Aberdeen City Council
    These three decisions all relate to requests about programmes for offenders which are run by the Council. In Decision 212/2012 the Commissioner agreed with the Council that no relevant information was held, while in Decision 210/2012 the Commissioner found that no additional information was held beyond that provided in response to Mr M's request for review. In Decision 209/2012, while some relevant information was provided in response to Mr H's initial request, additional information was identified and provided to Mr H during the Commissioner's investigation.

 

  • Decision 208/2012 - Mr Tavish Scott MSP and the Scottish Ministers
    The Commissioner agreed with Ministers that the requested information - which related to education policy discussions - fell within the scope of the exemption relating to the formulation of government policy. While she considered that Mr Scott's arguments in favour of disclosure were well-founded, she nevertheless found that there was, in this case, a greater public interest in maintaining the exemption given that the discussions were at such an early stage.

  • Decision 207/2012 - Mr Tom Gordon and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Gordon was informed that Ministers considered his request for information relating to cabinet meetings to be invalid, as it did not describe the information requested. During the investigation, it was accepted by Ministers that the request was valid. Our decision requires the Scottish Ministers to respond to Mr Gordon's request for review.

  • Decision 206/2012 - Mr Sergio Sabato and Highland Health Board
    Decision 205/2012 - Mr Sergio Sabato and Highland Health Board
    Decision 204/2012 - Mr Sergio Sabato and Highland Health Board
    Three short "technical" decisions, each relating to failures by the Board to respond to information requests. In each case the Commissioner requires the Board to respond to Mr Sabato's requests for review.

 

  • Decision 203/2012 - Mr Tim Quelch and the City of Edinburgh Council
    Mr Quelch asked for information on the exercise of the Council's powers in relation to statutory repairs. In response to an earlier request, the Council had told Mr Quelch that it didn't hold any relevant information. However, Mr Quelch had become aware of a manual held by the Council which he considered fell within the scope of that request. The Council provided this manual in response to a second request, and Mr Quelch appealed, believing further information was held. Additional relevant information was disclosed during the course of the Commissioner's investigation, and the Council was advised by the Commissioner to ensure it takes appropriate steps to identify all relevant information in future.

  • Decision 202/2012 ? Mr Hugh McLeod and Northern Joint Police Board
    Mr McLeod requested a copy of a report prepared in response to complaints about the investigation into the death of his son. This report was previously disclosed with certain information withheld, following an (Decision 033/2007) by the Commissioner. The Board accepted that the death of an individual meant that certain information could no longer be withheld under the personal data exemption, but found that this information was still protected from release under the "confidentiality" exemption. Following investigation, the Commissioner upheld this conclusion.

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