Decision 124/2021: Sectarian motivated false allegations of child sexual abuse raised against Catholic priests

Public authority: Glasgow City Council
Case Ref: 202001431

Summary

The Council was asked about sectarian motivated false allegations of child sexual abuse raised against Catholic priests. The Council told the Applicant it did not hold any information falling within the scope of her request.

Following an investigation, the Commissioner was satisfied that the Council did not hold the information.

Relevant statutory provisions

Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) sections 1(1) and (4) (General entitlement); 17(1) (Notice that information is not held)

The full text of the statutory provisions cited above is reproduced in Appendix 1 to this decision. The Appendix forms part of this decision.

Background

1. On 14 September 2020, the Applicant made a request for information to Glasgow City Council (the Council). The information requested was:

A full disclosure of any and all sectarian motivated false allegations of child sexual abuse raised against any Catholic priest by any persons 0-15 years of age or by any adult at the council on their behalf between 10/3/2015 - 14/9/2020.

2. The Applicant confirmed she did not wish the names or details of children disclosed.

3. The Council responded on 16 September 2020. It notified the Applicant, in terms of section 17(1) of FOISA, that it did not hold the information she had requested.

4. On 16 September 2020, the Applicant wrote to the Council, requesting a review of its decision as she considered the Council had a duty to check all reported cases of child sexual abuse within the date range to ascertain if any were made against a Catholic priest and subsequently deemed false.

5. The Council notified the Applicant of the outcome of its review on 15 October 2020. It confirmed that it did not hold the information (noting, for example, that it would not hold information in relation to the motivation behind an allegation). It also considered section 12(1) of FOISA (Excessive cost of compliance) would apply if required to undertake the searches requested as there were 2,671 child protection investigations in the time period requested and a manual search would be required.

6. On 30 November 2020, the Applicant wrote to the Commissioner, applying for a decision in terms of section 47(1) of FOISA. The Applicant stated she was dissatisfied with the outcome of the Council's review as she believed the Council held the information requested.

Investigation

7. The application was accepted as valid. The Commissioner confirmed that the Applicant made a request for information to a Scottish public authority and asked the authority to review its response to that request before applying to him for a decision.

8. On 22 January 2021, the Council was notified in writing that the Applicant had made a valid application. The case was allocated to an investigating officer.

9. Section 49(3)(a) of FOISA requires the Commissioner to give public authorities an opportunity to provide comments on an application. On 15 June 2021, the Council was invited to comment on the application and to answer specific questions, focussing on the steps it had taken to identify and locate any information falling within the scope of the request and how, if no information was held, section 12(1) of FOISA could apply.

10. The Council responded on 29 June 2021. It maintained that it did not hold any information falling within the scope of the request.

Commissioner's analysis and findings

11. In coming to a decision on this matter, the Commissioner considered all of the relevant submissions, or parts of submissions, made to him by both the Applicant and the Council. He is satisfied that no matter of relevance has been overlooked.

12. Section 1(1) of FOISA provides that a person who requests information from a Scottish public authority which holds it is entitled to be given that information by the authority, subject to qualifications which, by virtue of section 1(6) of FOISA, allow Scottish public authorities to withhold information or charge a fee for it. The qualifications contained in section 1(6) are not applicable in this case.

13. The information to be given is that held by the authority at the time the request is received, as defined in section 1(4). This is not necessarily to be equated with information an applicant believes the authority should hold. If no such information is held by the authority, section 17(1) of FOISA requires it to give the applicant notice in writing to that effect.

14. In its submissions to the Commissioner, the Council confirmed it did not hold the information requested by the Applicant.

15. In relation to the Applicant's suggestion that further searches should have been conducted, the Council advised that, as outlined in its response, it did not record the status of an alleged perpetrator and that it was not possible to report on the motivation behind any allegation, as this would not be known to the Council.

16. The Council detailed the enquiries it undertook to ascertain whether it held any information falling within the scope of the Applicant's request. These included consultation with the various Council departments it considered relevant and relevant staff within those departments. The Council provided supporting evidence regarding the enquiries and their outcomes. The conclusion of the enquiries was that no information was held falling within the scope of the request made by the Applicant.

17. The standard of proof to determine whether a Scottish public authority holds information is the civil standard of the balance of probabilities. In determining where the balance lies, the Commissioner must first of all consider the interpretation and scope of the request and thereafter the quality, thoroughness and results of the searches carried out by the public authority. He must also consider, where appropriate, any reason offered by the public authority to explain why it does not hold the information. Ultimately, however, the Commissioner's role is to determine what relevant information is actually held by the public authority (or was, at the time it received the request).

18. In this case, the Applicant is seeking information that is recorded by virtue of the sectarian motivation and falseness of the allegation. The Commissioner accepts that the request can only be interpreted as a request for recorded information regarding sexual abuse allegations that were not only recorded as being sectarian in motivation, but also as being false.

19. Having considered all relevant submissions, the Commissioner is satisfied that there would be no reasonable expectation of the Council holding information on the sectarian motivation, or falseness, of any allegations. In this regard, he has considered the outcomes of the enquiries undertaken by the Council in response to the requests.

20. Having considered the submissions from both parties, and the terms of the request, the Commissioner accepts that the Council interpreted the Applicant's request reasonably and took adequate, proportionate steps in the circumstances to establish whether it held information covered by the request. Given the explanations and other submissions provided, he is satisfied that the Council does not hold the information requested by the Applicant.

Decision

The Commissioner finds that Glasgow City Council complied with Part 1 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 in dealing with the Applicant's request.

Appeal

Should either the Applicant or the Council wish to appeal against this decision, they have the right to appeal to the Court of Session on a point of law only. Any such appeal must be made within 42 days after the date of intimation of this decision.

Margaret Keyse
Head of Enforcement
19 August 2021

Appendix 1: Relevant statutory provisions

Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

1 General entitlement

(1) A person who requests information from a Scottish public authority which holds it is entitled to be given it by the authority.

(4) The information to be given by the authority is that held by it at the time the request is received, except that, subject to subsection (5), any amendment or deletion which would have been made, regardless of the receipt of the request, between that time and the time it gives the information may be made before the information is given.

17 Notice that information is not held

(1) Where-

(a) a Scottish public authority receives a request which would require it either-

(i) to comply with section 1(1); or

(ii) to determine any question arising by virtue of paragraph (a) or (b) of section 2(1),

if it held the information to which the request relates; but

(b) the authority does not hold that information,

it must, within the time allowed by or by virtue of section 10 for complying with the request, give the applicant notice in writing that it does not hold it.

Link to PDF of Decision 124/2021 (182 KB)

Back to Top