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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 1 to 5 June 2015

The learning points from the four decisions published this week include some advice on what to do if the circumstances of a request change between the request and a later request for review. We also have details of the cases in May which were resolved without the need for a formal decision.

 

Key messages:

  • If circumstances change between a request and a request for review, let the requester know
    In Decision 069/2015, circumstances had changed between an authority's response to a request, and its later review of that response. The authority asked us whether such changes should be taken into account when carrying out a review.

    An authority carrying out a review must look at how the request was handled at the time it was first made. The authority is not barred from considering any change in circumstances after that time, but it is not obliged to do so. However, in such cases, we would expect an authority to let the requester know that circumstances had changed, so the requester can, if they choose, make a fresh request for any information which was previously withheld.

 

  • In rare cases, some information may be available for inspection only, because of its format
    Occasionally, information may be held in a format which isn't suitable for scanning or copying, and the requester may have no option but to view the information where it is held. Decision 066/2015 looks at an unusual case where copies of the information could not be provided because of its fragile condition, even though the requester was unable to visit the authority to view it.

 

  • Remember, it's always important to respond to requests on time
    Unfortunately, there are another two decisions this week (Decisions 063/2015 and 068/2015) where we found that the public authority failed to respond within the 20 day timescale, either initially or when the requester asked for a review. These are avoidable failures. If your authority is not responding to requests on time, have a look at the Commissioner's Self-assessment Toolkit. Our "Responding on time" module will enable you to assess and improve:
    • your compliance with statutory timescales
    • your compliance with the Section 60 Code of Practice; and
    • the quality of service you provide.

Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 063/2015 Stephen Baker and Glasgow City Council
    Mr Baker asked Glasgow City Council for information about the number of Penalty Charge Notices issued for a specified bus lane. We found that the Council failed to respond to the request, or Mr Baker's request for review, within the FOI Act's 20 working day timescale.

 

  • Decision 066/2015 Mr X and East Lothian Council
    Mr X asked East Lothian Council for information about burial grounds, including photocopies of cemetery maps. The Council told him that although it held maps of the cemeteries, it could not provide photocopies because of the size and condition of the maps. After an investigation which included an inspection of the maps, we agreed that the Council could not provide the information in the format Mr X had asked for. We ordered the Council to provide Mr X with one map which it held as a photocopy.

 

  • Decision 067/2015 Jim Taylor and City of Edinburgh Council
    Mr Taylor asked the Council for information that would prove its processes for taxi licensing comply with human rights law. The Council told Mr Taylor that the information was exempt from disclosure because it was confidential legal advice (having been received from the Council's in-house legal advisor), and was therefore covered by the FOI Act's confidentiality exemption (section 36(1)).

    For information to be covered by this exemption it must remain confidential. The advice in question had been provided to councillors serving on a committee, but had also been shared more widely with council officials. Mr Taylor questioned whether this meant that it could no longer be considered "confidential" for the purposes of section 36(1). Our investigation found, however, that the confidentiality of the information was not affected by the fact that it had been shared with staff within the Council.

 

  • Decision 068/2015 Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) and Shetland Islands Council
    HIAL asked Shetland Islands Council for information about a runway project. We found that the Council failed to respond to HIAL's request for review within the 20 working day timescale.

 

  • Decision 069/2015 Patersons of Greenoakhill Limited and South Lanarkshire Council
    South Lanarkshire Council were asked for information about tenders for a contract. The Council provided some information, withheld some information, and said that it did not hold some of the information. We agreed with this, accepting that some information was commercially confidential and could be withheld.

 

Cases resolved informally

Where appropriate, we will work to resolve cases without the need for a formal decision. We resolved six cases this way during May. Here are the reasons these cases were resolved:

  • The requester agreed to make a more focused request 
    Following discussions with our staff, a requester agreed that the wording of the request did not cover the information he wanted. He withdrew his appeal to make a revised request.

 

  • The authority provided information during the investigation
    This happened in four cases, for different reasons:
    1. The authority reviewed the information it held and provided the requester with, in one case, some and, in another case, all of the withheld information.
    2. The authority discovered information it had previously said it didn't hold, and provided the information (after removing personal data).
    3. The authority previously thought that some information wasn't covered by the request but, after being asked to reconsider, changed its view and provided the information. 

In each case, the requester felt able to withdraw their appeal.

  • The requester was satisfied that no more information could be provided
    The requester gave us a copy of an email which he believed should have been provided when the authority replied to his request. The authority was asked to search for the email, and found it. The search did not find any more relevant information. The requester agreed it was likely that no more information could be provided, and withdrew their appeal.

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