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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 21 to 25 July 2014

We published five decisions between 21 and 25 July - here are the details:

Key messages:

  • Prohibitions on disclosure won't apply to environmental information
    If you receive an information request, but other legislation makes it illegal for you to disclose the information, the information is exempt from disclosure under section 26 of the FOI Act. This is an absolute exemption, so you don't need to think about the public interest test. However, things aren't so straightforward if the request is for environmental information. There's no equivalent of section 26 in the EIRs (which govern access to environmental information).  In fact, regulation 5(3) of the EIRs makes it clear that any legislation which would prevent environmental information being disclosed won't apply.

    In Decision 158/2014, we agreed that the non-environmental information covered by the request was exempt under section 26. When it came to environmental information, the authority needed to be able to show that disclosure would cause substantial prejudice and that the public interest lay in withholding the information.

 

  • Be polite!
    We know that it can be easy to get frustrated, particularly if you feel that authorities aren't taking your requests seriously. But be careful with the tone and frequency of your correspondence. If it starts to harass the authority, the authority might not have to deal with the request. Have a look at our tips for requesters for information and advice.

  • Get your searches right first time
    In Decision 154/2014, the authority told the requester it had given him all the information it held, only to find more information during our investigation. We were satisfied that the Council had located all of the information it held by the end of the investigation, but if the Council had carried out adequate searches earlier, this might have prevented an appeal.

  • Previous correspondence can be relevant when deciding if a request is manifestly unreasonable
    Under the EIRs requests can be refused if they are "manifestly unreasonable". It might be relevant to take account of previous correspondence from a requester when you're deciding if a request is manifestly unreasonable. However, you need to distinguish between correspondence on the same subject and reminders where no response has been issued. In Decision 157/2014, we criticised the authority for taking into account correspondence which pursued responses to unanswered queries.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 154/2014 Mr Anthony Ryan and West Lothian Council
    Mr Ryan asked the Council about the inspection and repair of a footpath. The Council disclosed some information to Mr Ryan, but told him it didn't hold anything else. However, the Council found and disclosed more information during our investigation.

 

  • Decision 157/2014 Mr Roy Mackay and Scottish Borders Council
    In this case, the Council failed to respond to Mr Mackay's request and was late in responding to his request for review. The decision orders the Council to respond to Mr Mackay.

 

  • Decision 157/2014 Banknock Haggs & Longcroft Community Council (BHLCC) and Transport Scotland
    Here, we found that Transport Scotland was entitled to refuse to respond to BHLCC's information request on the basis that the request was manifestly unreasonable; the request had the effect of harassing Transport Scotland and the public interest lay in preventing Transport Scotland's functions being disrupted.

 

  • Decision 158/2014 Dr J Wallace Hinton and the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO)
    Dr Hinton asked the SPSO for the communications it had with Glasgow City Council while it was investigating a complaint. The SPSO withheld the information under section 26(a) of the FOI Act, on the basis that its disclosure was prohibited by other legislation. We agreed that the SPSO was entitled to do this, but also found that some of the information covered by Dr Hinton's request was environmental information and should have been dealt with under the EIRs.

 

  • Decision 159/2014 Mr Tom Gordon and the Scottish Ministers
    Another case where the authority failed to respond to the information request or request for review on time. The Ministers responded to Mr Gordon during our investigation.

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