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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 7 to 18 April 2014

We published six decisions in the last two weeks.

 

Key messages:

 

  • Disclose what you can
    It is good practice for authorities not to withhold documents in their entirety, but to disclose what they can.  In this case, the Council disclosed a document with the exempt text blacked out, rather than withhold the whole thing.

     

  • Responding to requests for requesters’ own personal data
    Information which is the personal data of third parties may also be the personal data of the requester.  A requester’s own personal data is always exempt from disclosure under FOI.  However, it is good practice to tell them about their rights to request their own data under the Data Protection Act.

 

  • It’s best to make a separate information request so it isn’t overlooked
    If your information request is included in other correspondence, there’s a greater chance that the public authority will fail to notice it – as happened in Decision 078/2014.You can increase your chances of a satisfactory reply by sending a separate information request.However, public authorities should always be on the look-out for requests which are “hidden” in other correspondence.

 

  • Sometimes public authorities don’t hold the information you expect
    As noted in Decision 079/2014, where we are required to consider whether a public authority holds the information, we will always look at what steps the authority took to search for the information.We will look at whether the searches carried out were likely to locate the information covered by the request, or whether other searches should have been carried out.If we are not satisfied with the searches that have been carried out, we will require the public authority to carry out further searches.

      

  • It’s good to carry out reviews promptly – but make sure they cover all points raised by the applicant
    Although reviews must be completed promptly and within 20 working days, they must be thorough and address all relevant matters raised by the applicant.It is also important that review procedures enable different decisions to be taken if required. Decision 080/2014 highlights the importance of conducting a thorough review.

 

  • Think twice before applying an exemption – does it really apply?
    Often we find that, once an investigation is underway, the public authority will decide that the information can be disclosed to the applicant.In most cases, no reason is given for this change in approach, and the Commissioner will conclude that the information should not have been withheld in the first place.As demonstrated in Decision 081/2014 this leads to a decision against the public authority.So, if you’re applying an exemption, think about whether it really applies.

     

  • Only one review is required
     
    Decision 081/2014highlights that, if you fail to reply to a request, but then carry out a review, you shouldn’t advise the applicant to submit another request for review if they’re still unhappy.Instead, they have the right to apply to the Commissioner for a decision.

  

Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 077/2014 – John Grassom and South Lanarkshire Council
    Mr Grassom asked the Council for a letter in a planning file which contained representations about a planning application.    The Council disclosed some of the letter, but withheld the personal data in the letter on the basis that disclosure would breach the Data Protection Act 1998.  The Commissioner agreed that the Council was entitled to withhold the personal data.

 

  • Decision 078/2014 – Mr Colvin Hope and Dumfries and Galloway Health Board
    A technical decision where we found that the Health Board failed to respond to both Mr Hope’s request and request for review within 20 working days.

      

  • Decision 079/2014 – Mr Gordon C Ford and East Renfrewshire Council
    Mr Ford asked for information about land at Eastwood High School campus.  The Council provided some information, but told him that it didn’t hold other information.   Following an investigation, we accepted that the searches carried out by the Council had been thorough and that the Council didn’t hold any more information.

     

  • Decision 080/2014 – Dr Robbie Coull and Lochgilphead Medical Centre
    Although the public authority responded quickly to Dr Coull’s request for review, we found that the review did not comply with the Act.

     

  • Decision 081/2014 – Mr Matthew Clark and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Clark asked for communications sent by the Scottish Government to the UK Government about the export of beef to Japan. The information  was withheld  on the basis that it comprised communications between Ministers, and the public interest lay in upholding the exemption.  During our investigation, the Ministers decided that the exemption did not apply and disclosed the information to Mr Clark.

     

  • Decision 083/2014 – Ms Rosina Parkhill and the Scottish Ambulance Service Board
    A technical decision where we found the public authority had failed to respond to the request and request for review within 20 working days.

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