Decisions Round-up: 6 to 10 March 2017

Interpretation is a key theme this week. We look at why asking for clarification from the requester can be a vital step in understanding the request and why the possibility of people misinterpreting information is not, on its own, a reason to withhold information.

The theme of interpretation continued in our resolved cases. Last month we resolved three appeals as we were able to show the authority where it had misinterpreted the request. A further three were resolved on the basis that information was disclosed during our investigation.

Learning points:

  •  Context can be provided when disclosing information
    In Decision 026/2017, the authority was worried that the public would misinterpret the information if it was disclosed and decided to withhold it. Concern about people misinterpreting information is not, on its own, a good reason to withhold information. There is nothing to stop an authority providing explanatory notes if it is concerned that information might be misconstrued. Doing this will also help the requester to better understand the information provided.
  • Is it clear what is being asked for?
    Some information requests can be read in different ways. The FOI Act recognises this and allows authorities to clarify a request before responding. In Decision 027/2017, the authority didn't ask for clarification. This led to more work for the authority and a delay for the requester.

Decisions issued:

  •  Decision 026/2017  Tom Gordon and the Scottish Ministers
    The Ministers were asked about the creation of a Scottish Monetary Authority (SMA) and about the potential appointment of Professor John Kay as its head. We were satisfied that the Ministers didn't hold any information about the appointment of Professor Kay. We ordered the Ministers to disclose information on the creation of the SMA as we weren't satisfied disclosure would substantially prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.
  • Decision 027/2017  Mr D and Dundee City Council
    The Council was asked how long it had held onto anti-social behaviour cautions before destroying them. It argued that it would cost more than £600 to respond. During the investigation, it became clear that the Council hadn't interpreted Mr D's request properly and that it didn't actually hold the information Mr D had asked for.


Resolved cases:

We also resolved six cases in February without the need for a formal decision. The good news is that, in all of these cases, information was provided to the requester and the requester was happy to withdraw their appeal.

  •  Three cases involved identical requests made to the same authority. The authority misinterpreted the requests, and dealt with them under the FOI Act rather than under the Data Protection Act 1998 (the DPA). Once we got involved, the authority realised their error and disclosed the information to each of the requesters under the DPA.


  • In two cases, the authority disclosed the information the requester had asked for during the investigation.


  • In a final case, the authority disclosed some information to the requester. While it wasn't the information the requester had actually asked for, the requester was happy with what was disclosed and decided not to go ahead with the appeal.


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