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Filing cabinet with papers flying outDecisions Round-up: 3 to 7 June 2013

We published three decisions this week.  Here are the details:

 

Key messages:

  • 20 working days is a legal right
    All those working with FOI law will be well aware that requests must be responded to within 20 working days. Yet it is rare for a week to pass without the issue of a decision finding that an authority has failed in this regard. This was a feature of two of this week's three decisions. Failing to respond not only means that an individual is denied their rights - it also creates additional burdens for authorities when responding to our inquiries. Every authority must ensure that its procedures are robust enough for this timescale to be met for all relevant requests.

 

  • Narrow your request as much as you can
    When requesting information, try and be as specific as you can in describing the information you want. A wide-ranging request may delay the response, and can lead to the request being refused on cost grounds. This was the case in Decision 099/2013, where responding to the request would have exceeded the £600 limit. Our new tips for requesters provide helpful advice on narrowing a request, along with other guidance to help you get the most out of FOI.

 

  • Don't forget the duty to advise and assist
    Authorities have a duty to advise and assist requesters, and both requesters and authorities should be mindful of this. Requesters shouldn't be afraid to ask the authority for advice and support, while authorities should always consider whether there is anything else they should do to assist the requester. While the request in Decision 099/2013 was appropriately refused on cost grounds, we found that the authority had failed to provide the requester with advice on how their request might be narrowed.

 

Summary of decisions:

  • Decision 099/2013 - Ms Laura Francis and the Scottish Ministers
    Ms Francis asked the Ministers for all legal advice held regarding policies on tuition fees. The Ministers initially responded by claiming the legal professional privilege exemption, before later submitting that responding would exceed the £600 upper limit. We agreed that the request could be refused on cost grounds, but required the Ministers to provide advice to Ms Francis on narrowing her request.

 

  • Decision 101/2013 - Mr Roger Marshall and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
  • Decision 102/2013 - Dr Hazel MacIver and the Scottish Ministers
    In both these decisions we found that the relevant authority had failed to respond within the statutory timescale.

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