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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 29 June to 3 July 2015

The eleven decisions published this week highlight the clear benefits for authorities in getting FOI right from the outset. Failing to conduct proper searches, using an incorrect template letter, not reading a request carefully enough: many of the appeals could have been easily avoided.  And one authority saw the benefit of good information-handling: using its carefully managed records to clearly evidence that a request was “vexatious”.

 

Key messages:

  • The Commissioner's decisions focus on the circumstances at the time of the review
    When we're deciding whether a public authority has complied with the Act, we look at the circumstances at the time the authority reviews its handling of the initial request. In Decision 085/2015, we knew that circumstances had changed between the date of the review and our decision, but we couldn't take this into account when considering whether the exemption applied, or where the public interest lay.

 

  • Carry out proper searches when the request comes in …
    … or you'll only have to do them at a later date. In three of the decisions we published this week, authorities found additional information covered by the requests during our investigation. By failing to identify and locate the information at an earlier stage, the authorities breached the FOI Act, disadvantaged the requester, and created unnecessary additional work for themselves (See Decisions 089/2015, 094/2015 and 097/2015).

 

  • Requests can be vexatious if they seek to re-open dialogue on matters that have been exhausted
    In Decision 090/2015, we found that a request was vexatious. Although the request did not appear to be contentious, it involved a matter which had been going on for well over 10 years. When looked at in context, we agreed that the request was vexatious. Good record keeping by the authority allowed them to make well-evidenced submissions and enabled us to make a relatively quick decision on a tricky area of FOI.

 

  • Check your templates are correct
    It's a good idea for authorities to have templates they can use when responding to requests as they help make sure that responses comply with the FOI Act. But if you do use templates, make sure they're correct. In Decision 095/2015, the requester complained that the authority's review response didn't make it clear what the outcome of the review had been.

 

  • Timescales, timescales, timescales
    Regular readers will no doubt be as tired of reading this as we are of seeing it, but authorities must remember to comply with the timescales in the Act. Four of the decisions we published this week looked at cases where timescales had not been complied with (See Decisions 091/2015, 093/2015, 096/2015 and 098/2015).

 

  • Read requests carefully!
    In Decision 096/2015, the authority made a wrong assumption about what the requester wanted. This led to it failing to respond within the time required by the Act.

 

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 085/2015 Paul Hutcheon and Police Scotland
    Mr Hutcheon asked Police Scotland about a "stop and search" report published in January. Police Scotland withheld one email from Mr Hutcheon, on the basis that disclosure would substantially prejudice the free and frank exchange of views. We agreed that the email could be withheld.

 

  • Decision 089/2015 Leslie Black Mitchell and the Risk Management Authority (RMA)
    The RMA approves Risk Management Plans for offenders who are subject to an order for lifelong restriction. Mr Mitchell asked about changes made to the definition of risk levels. During the investigation, the RMA disclosed some information to Mr Mitchell in a redacted (blanked out) form. We concluded that the RMA had failed to identify all of the information falling within the scope of Mr Mitchell's request, but were satisfied that the RMA was entitled to withhold most of the information from Mr Mitchell.

 

  • Decision 090/2015 Mr N and South Lanarkshire Council
    Mr N asked the Council to confirm that it had received certain payments from him for land he used to own. The Council refused to comply with Mr N's request on the basis that the request was vexatious. We agreed. The request was a continuation of correspondence with the Council about an issue that had taken place more than 10 years ago.

 

  • Decision 091/2015 Paul Hutcheon and Police Scotland
    Mr Hutcheon asked the Police about its User Satisfaction Survey. The decision finds that the Police failed to respond to Mr Hutcheon's request and request for review within the timescales required by the FOI Act.

 

  • Decision 092/2015 Niall MacKinnon and Education Scotland
    Mr MacKinnon asked for correspondence about a 2008 school inspection. Education Scotland told Mr MacKinnon that they didn't hold some of the information. Following an investigation, we were satisfied that the information didn't exist.

 

  • Decision 093/2015 Andrew Learmonth and Police Scotland
    This involved a request by Mr Learmonth for correspondence between Stephen House, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, and Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart. The Police failed to respond to Mr Learmonth's request and request for review within the FOI Act timescales.

 

  • Decision 094/2015 David Chapman and East Lothian Council
    Mr Chapman asked the Council about its response to the National Planning Framework. Although the Council gave Mr Chapman some information, Mr Chapman believed that the Council hadn't given him everything it held. The Council found additional information during our investigation. By the end of the investigation, we were satisfied that the Council had disclosed everything it held.

 

  • Decision 095/2015 Company A and Glasgow City Council
    A company asked about the costs incurred in relation to a specific HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) application. The Council told the company it didn't hold the information. We carried out an investigation and were satisfied that this was correct.

 

  • Decision 096/2015 Councillor Gordon Blair and Argyll and Bute Council
    Councillor Blair asked the Council for CCTV footage of Rothesay Harbour. The Council did not respond to the request within the time allowed by the FOI Act.

 

  • Decision 097/2015 ABW Consultants Ltd and West Lothian Council
    ABW asked the Council about a planning application. The Council provided some information, and told ABW that it didn't hold the remainder. During our investigation, it became clear that the Council did hold more information. We ordered the Council to issue a new response to ABW, this time addressing all of the information it held.

 

  • Decision 098/2015 John Middleton and West Lothian Council
    Another case where an authority failed to respond within the timescale allowed by the FOI Act.

 

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