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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 18 to 22 July 2016

 

Make it easy on yourself…in this week's Round-up we remind authorities that requesters are more likely to seek a review or query whether all relevant information has been provided, if the disclosed information is provided in a disorganised and non-chronological way.

In addition, that issue of identifying information requests hiding in ongoing correspondence features once again.

 Key messages:

  • If information is withheld, you need to be able to explain why
    Sometimes it may seem obvious that information should be withheld, but authorities must still make the case for doing so. In Decision 153/2016, we accepted that the authority was correct to withhold legal advice. However, the authority's submissions were largely speculative and did not clearly demonstrate what harm would follow disclosure. Further submissions improved on this, but still expected us to take a lot for granted about the anticipated effects of disclosure. It's important to remember that if we don't receive robust submissions showing why it would cause harm, we may order disclosure.
  • If a request covers old ground, it may be vexatious
    It's sometimes difficult to know quite where to draw the line for vexatious requests. Decisions 157/2016 and 158/2016 are good examples. The authority had answered a series of related requests about its actions and then asked to respond to questions which had already been answered. We accepted those requests were harassing to the authority. But in Decision 157/2016 another part of the request was not vexatious because information was disclosed, following the appeal.
  • Keep requests separate from other correspondence
    Many of the "failure to respond" cases we see (such as Decision 160/2016) are about requests overlooked because they were buried in correspondence on wider issues. It's all too easy to overlook a request which is part of ongoing, complex correspondence. This is why we recommend requesters keep information requests separate. Authorities do still of course need to watch out for questions which are actually requests for recorded information.
  • Presentation matters
    When disclosing sequential information (like email strings), make sure that the sequence is complete and, ideally, organised chronologically. If documents are jumbled up, the requester may suspect that the information is incomplete and that additional information is being withheld. Decision 161/2016 looks at this particular issue.

 

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 153/2016 Robert Kirkwood and City of Edinburgh Council
    Mr Kirkwood asked for legal advice relating to an enforcement notice. The Council withheld the information. We agreed with this, because disclosure was likely to affect its ability to take enforcement action. However, we criticised the Council's submissions, some of which were speculative in terms of the harm it suggested would occur following disclosure of the information.
            
  • Decision 154/2016 Company T and City of Edinburgh Council
  • Decision 155/2016 Company H and City of Edinburgh Council
  • Decision 156/2016 Company R and City of Edinburgh Council

    All three of these cases involved requests for information about city centre poster advertising drums and the Council's authorised advertising project. In each case, we found that the Council had failed to respond to the request in time. In two cases, it had also failed to respond to the request for review in time.
  • Decisions 157/2016 and 158/2016 Roy Mackay and Scottish Borders Council
    Mr Mackay asked for information about the Council's actions under Curators ad Litem legislation. The Council refused to respond, considering Mr Mackay's requests to be vexatious. After investigation, we found that Mr Mackay's requests generally covered matters which had already been considered in previous correspondence.

    We accepted that the requests were harassing to the Council, in the context created by previous correspondence, even though this may not have been Mr Mackay's intention. We did not accept that part of one request should have been treated as vexatious (Decision 157/2016) because the Council disclosed information after Mr Mackay made his application for a decision.
  • Decision 160/2016 Ms G and the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
    Ms G asked for information about "lessons learned" from a case investigated by the SPSO. Her request was made within a long letter covering several issues. We found that the SPSO failed to identify the request and this led to a failure to respond to her request and request for review on time.
  • Decision 161/2016 Tom Gordon and the University of Glasgow
    Mr Gordon asked for all information relating to the professorial appointment of Michael Russell MSP. The University disclosed some information but not all. Mr Gordon challenged this decision, believing also that the University might hold more information than it had acknowledged. After investigating, we found that the University was wrong to withhold some information. Although the non-sequential way in which emails had been provided to Mr Gordon made it appear that more information might be held, we accepted that all information had been identified.

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