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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 2 to 6 February 2015

We published two decisions between 2 and 6 February - as usual, the learning points are below.

During January we also resolved eight cases informally - that is, settling them, to the satisfaction of the requester and the public authority, without the need for a decision. For the first time, we've include information about our resolved cases below, as there's also a lot of useful lessons to be learned from these. We plan to include details of the cases we resolve informally once a month in future round-ups. We'd love to know what you think of this - contact us to let us know.

Key messages:

  • Don't use the FOI Act to ask for your own personal data
    If you want to access your own personal data, use your rights under the Data Protection Act 1998 instead of FOI. The FOI Act contains an absolute exemption for the personal data of the requester - section 38(1)(a). In Decision 012/2015, the requester tried to use his FOI rights to obtain information about himself.

 

  • Remember to respond to every part of a request
    In Decision 012/2015, the public authority failed to respond to part of the request. As it turns out, the authority didn't actually hold any information which would answer that part of the request, but it should have issued a notice under section 17 of the FOI Act to tell the requester it didn't hold the information.

 

  • Public authorities can't always respond to a request on the day it's received
    FOI gives access to the information held by a public authority. If information is held by a public authority on the day a request is received, it will be covered by the request. However, the FOI Act recognises that, in some cases, it may not be "reasonably practicable" to prevent information being destroyed before a request is dealt with (sections 1(4) and (5) of the FOI Act). Decision 014/2015 looks at requests made on a Saturday, but which weren't actioned until Monday, by which time the information had been destroyed (in accordance with the authority's procedures). We agreed that it wasn't reasonably practical to stop the information from being destroyed in the circumstances.

 

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 012/2015 Mr A and the Scottish Court Service (SCS)
    Mr A asked the SCS for a copy of a report to the Parole Board, together with information about this type of report. The SCS told Mr A that the report was exempt under an absolute exemption - section 37 - as it had been created by a court for the purposes of criminal proceedings. We agreed. We found, however, that the SCS had failed to address part of Mr A's request. During the investigation, it became clear that the SCS didn't hold the additional information Mr A had asked for, but it should have told him this.

 

  • Decision 014/2015 Mr N and the Scottish Prison Service
    Mr N asked for information about newspapers delivered on the day of his requests. Following an investigation, we were satisfied that the SPS didn't hold the information. The information had been destroyed after the requests were made, but it wasn't reasonably practicable for the SPS to prevent the destruction.

Cases resolved informally:

In some cases where it is appropriate, we will work to resolve cases without the need for a formal decision. We resolved eight cases this way in January. Here are the key reasons that these cases were resolved:

  • The requester accepted that the information was likely to be exempt
    A requester wanted to know the names of people who owed money to a local authority. In our discussions with the requester, we explained that the Commissioner was extremely unlikely to require disclosure of the information as it would breach the Data Protection Act (DPA). The requester decided to withdraw his appeal and, on our advice, plans to make a new request which could be answered without breaching the DPA.

 

  • New searches led to the requester being satisfied
    During our investigations, we often require public authorities to carry out searches to satisfy us that they've found all the relevant information. We usually contact the requester after the searches have been carried out. In one case, the requester was satisfied that the authority didn't actually hold the information. In another, the searches led to additional information being provided. In both cases, the requesters decided to withdraw their applications.

 

  • The requester accepted that the £600 limit for FOI responses had been met
    Authorities don't have to comply with an FOI request if it costs more than £600 to do so. In one case resolved last month, the authority only told the requester that it would cost more than £600 after they'd appealed to us. The requester withdrew after seeing the explanation as to why it would cost more than £600. In another case, the requester withdrew after the public authority offered to disclose as much information as it could within the costs limit - even though it was under no obligation to do so.

 

  • We felt the "vexatious" provision was unlikely to apply
    In one case, a public authority had refused to respond to the request on the basis that the request was vexatious. Section 14(1) of the FOI Act allows such requests to be refused. Having looked carefully at the case, we felt there wasn't enough to justify a finding that the request was vexatious. We spoke to the authority and the requester, and the authority agreed to carry out a further review - but this time, applying a different outcome.

 

  • The case was appealed to us!
    In some cases, the very fact that we tell authorities that an appeal has been made to us can lead to information being disclosed - this happened twice in January.

Did you find this round-up of informally resolved cases useful?  contact us to let us know what you think.

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