Decisions Round-up: 9 to 20 February 2015

Learning points from this Round-up's nine decisions focus on the importance of considering requests in context, including finding out why requesters want third party personal data, and thinking about the sensitivity of information connected to tragic events.


Key messages:

  • Check what information you hold before responding
    It seems like common sense - but it doesn't always happen. Two of the decisions this week (Decisions 016/2015 and 022/2015) involve cases where the public authority discovered information that it didn't think it held, only once we started investigating. In such cases, the Commissioner is likely to require you to carry out a new review, creating more work for you and a further delay for the applicant. It's much better for everyone if you carry out a thorough search before you respond to the request.

    Improve your practice with Module 2 of the Commissioner's Self Assessment Modules: .


  • Information may lose its sensitivity over time
    In Decision 017/2015, we ordered disclosure of information from a school inspection in 2008. The circumstances surrounding this inspection were uniquely tragic, as the headteacher took her life shortly afterwards. After careful consideration, we found that the information which had initially been withheld out of respect for her memory should now be disclosed.

    Although the feeling of respect for the headteacher's memory and a reluctance to do anything which might seem disrespectful to that memory could be relevant when applying the exemption in section 30(c) of the FOI Act, the information had been fully discussed at the Fatal Accident Inquiry. Disclosure was not capable of harming the school inspection process, which has changed since 2008.


  • You'll need good reasons for having personal data disclosed under FOI
    Special protection is given to personal data under the Data Protection Act (the DPA). You can't get your own personal data under FOI, because there are special safeguards governing its disclosure to you under the DPA. If you're looking for other people's personal data, we need to be satisfied that any disclosure is consistent with the DPA. For this reason, we'll need to know why you want the information - and we won't be able to order disclosure if your reasons for having it are met by other information you have already. See Decisions 018/2015 and 020/2015.


  • Tell the applicant when incomplete information is likely to be finalised
    If you apply the exception in regulation 10(4)(d) of the EIRs, you must tell the applicant when you think the information will be finished or completed (regulation 13(d)). In Decision 019/2015, the Council failed to do this at request stage. At review stage it also failed to tell the applicants that by then the information had been completed.


  • The same information may answer more than one part of a request
    Be aware that a requester will not be as familiar as you are with the information you hold. If you have a request in several parts, it may be that more than one of these parts can be answered by the same information. Take this into account in considering the request, and think carefully before you say you don't hold information which would address any particular part of the request. This was overlooked by the authority in Decision 023/2015.


Decisions issued:

  • Decision 015/2015 Calum Liddle and Pickaquoy Centre Trust
    Pickaquoy Centre Trust was designated as a Scottish public authority last April. Mr Liddle asked the Pickaquoy Centre Trust about its management of FOI requests. We found that the Trust failed to respond to Mr Liddle's request and review request within 20 working days.


  • Decision 016/2015 Trump International and Aberdeen City Council
    Trump International asked about the European Offshore Wind Farm Development Centre and related substation at Blackdog, Aberdeenshire. The Council provided some information and stated that it did not hold other information.

    During the investigation the Council discovered more information covered by the request. We ordered the Council to issue a new review response.


  • Decision 017/2015 Niall Mackinnon and Education Scotland
    Mr Mackinnon asked for information from the report of the inspection of Glendinning Terrace Primary School, carried out in 2008. Education Scotland withheld the information. It stated that disclosure would significantly harm its ability to carry out many aspects of its work, or adversely affect its ability to gather all the evidence it needs to make fully informed decisions about a school's performance. We disagreed and ordered disclosure.


  • Decision 018/2015 Gary Smith and East Ayrshire Council
    Mr Smith asked the Council about the application of the Data Protection Act 1998 to an independent coal report. The Council gave some information to Mr Smith and withheld other information under various exemptions. We found that the Council had been wrong to withhold some of the information because it thought disclosure would harm the free and frank exchange of views. We ordered the Council to disclose this information.


  • Decision 019/2015 Goodfellow Ltd. and Perth and Kinross Council
    Goodfellow Ltd. asked for information relating to roads maintenance contracts and how these had been awarded. The Council provided some information, but withheld the report of an internal audit investigation on the grounds that it was incomplete at the time of the request.

    During our investigation, it became clear that the audit report had been finalised by the time the Council issued its review response, but the Council had not made this clear to Goodfellow Ltd. The failure to provide such advice was a breach of regulation 9(1) of the EIRs.

    We also found that the Council's initial response failed to state when the report was due to be completed, as required by regulation 13(d). As the Council had provided Goodfellow Ltd. with a copy of the completed report some time later, we did not order its disclosure.


  • Decision 020/2015 Mr Carbiner and Lothian Health Board
    Mr Carbiner asked the Board about an investigation into infection control at a dental practice in North Berwick. The Board provided Mr Carbiner with some information, but withheld other information. Further information was disclosed to Mr Carbiner during our investigation, after which we were satisfied that he had been given all the information the Board could provide without breaching the Data Protection Act.


  • Decision 021/2015 Colin Simpson and Scottish Ministers
    Mr Simpson asked the Ministers about the decision to have a single chamber parliament in the event of independence. The Ministers stated that they didn't hold any relevant information. We accepted this after an investigation.


  • Decision 022/2015 Company A and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)
    Company A asked the SLCC about the SLCC's investigation procedures. The SLCC told Company A that it didn't hold the information it had requested. We found that the SLCC did not hold information covered by two parts of the request, but that it did hold information covered by another part of the request. We required the SLCC to issue a new review response in relation to this part of the request.


  • Decision 023/2015 William Forbes and Transport Scotland
    Mr Forbes asked Transport Scotland about Scottish Government funding for Prestwick Airport. Transport Scotland disclosed some information to Mr Forbes, but withheld the remainder under the exemption relating to the effective conduct of public affairs. We agreed that Transport Scotland had been entitled to do this.

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