Decisions Round-up: 02 to 06 April 2018

There are different aspects to the advice and assistance duty, but there are two good examples this week where the duty boiled down to a need for authorities to explain to the requester why the request was handled a particular way. In a similar vein, authorities need to be able to explain to us why exemptions apply to  information. In one case this week, we ordered disclosure of information because the authority hadn't provided us with robust reasons for claiming an exemption applied.

Learning points:

  • Explanations are important…
    In Decision 043/2018, the requesters believed that the authority had interpreted their request too narrowly, and asked for a review. The authority disclosed more information, but didn't explain why it had initially taken a different view. Authorities have a duty to provide reasonable advice and assistance to requesters at all stages of a request. It's important that requesters understand why an authority has handled a request in a particular way, and we agreed that the authority should have provided more explanation.

    The same learning point came up in another of this week's decisions, Decision 042/2018. In this case, we agreed that some of the information should be withheld. However, the authority didn't explain to the requester why the exemption applied. Authorities must explain to requesters why their request has been refused, if this is not otherwise apparent.
  • Take care when applying exemptions
    In Decision 042/2018, we ordered disclosure of some information because the authority failed to give robust reasons why it should be withheld. Other information had not been obtained from a third party, which meant that the exemption in question couldn't apply. Authorities must be able to justify the exemptions they apply, and make sure that all relevant tests can be met before applying the exemption.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 042/2018 Stephen Magee and Fife Council
    Mr Magee asked for Critical Incident Reports and Serious Case Reviews for the Council's Social Work department, over a period of ten years. The Council disclosed some information and withheld some under a number of exemptions.

    We accepted that the Council had correctly withheld one report and some personal data from other reports. However, the Council was not entitled to withhold other information. We also highlighted some shortcomings in the refusal notice given to Mr Magee. 
  • Decision 043/2018 Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
    SEPA was asked for information relating to an article on sustainable fish farming. It provided some information from a report, then after review provided the whole report. However, the requesters did not believe SEPA had explained why it initially considered some information in the report to fall outside the scope of their request.

    After investigation, we found that SEPA failed to provide adequate advice and assistance.
  • Decision 044/2018 Laurel Bush and Highland Council
    Mx Bush asked about the Council's policy on the frequency of gas central heating checks. Mx Bush was dissatisfied that the Council did not respond to the request for a review.

    After investigation, we accepted that the Council had not received the request for a review, and therefore did not fail to respond to it.

Resolved cases

We resolved 14 cases in March without the need for a formal decision. In five cases, the requesters were happy to withdraw after the authorities disclosed some information during our investigation. The requesters in the seven other cases withdrew for the following reasons:

  • the requester accepted that the authority's interpretation of his request was reasonable
  • the authority agreed to provide additional clarification and explanation
  • the requester accepted that the authority was unlikely to hold the information
  • it was unlikely that we would require disclosure of the withheld information
  • the requester hadn't received the review response from the authority - which was put right
  • the requester accepted a different approach to his concerns
  • the authority changed its position and provided a new review response, and the requester agreed to submit a new application.
  • a new response was issued by the authority.
  • the requester decided to make a narrower request.

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