Decisions Round-up: 10 to 28 April 2017

We often have learning points in the round-up about failures to respond (where a public authority does not respond to an information request within the timescales set out in the legislation). One case this week reminds authorities that failing to respond means the authority misses out on the opportunity to resolve the request early, and can lead to extra work, even an extra appeal to our office, if the opportunity is missed.

We also have tips about how to estimate the cost of responding to a request and what our office can and can't do in an investigation.

Learning points:

  • Authorities: Don't miss a chance to engage with the requester
    Sometimes it can be difficult for the authority to understand exactly what information a requester requires. On the other side of the request, it can be difficult for requesters to frame requests if they don't understand what information a public authority holds, or how it's held. It pays dividends to engage with the requester at an early stage, as this may well save time later on. Decision 051/2017 is a case where the public authority missed an opportunity to do this by failing to respond to the request when it was made. This led to a "failure to respond" decision and then another appeal to us.


  • Make sure cost calculations are reasonable and searches proportionate
    Before refusing to comply with a request because it will cost more than £600, authorities should be able to show that their estimate is reasonable. We will challenge cost assumptions and calculations if they are unsupported by evidence or might not stand up to scrutiny. See our guidance on Fees and Charging.   

    In Decision 054/2017, we accepted that the cost of responding to a request would exceed £600, but criticised Police Scotland for greatly overstating how long it would take to find out whether it held any relevant information. In this case, the Police would have had to search the contents of 78 boxes of documents. However, it would not have been necessary to read every document: some boxes had indexes, while others contained collections of documents which were clearly not relevant to the request.


  • We can't say whether an authority should hold information
    In many of our decisions, such as Decision 056/2017, we explain that we can't decide whether an authority should hold the information which the requester has asked for - we can only decide whether or not it actually holds the information. We cannot comment on whether a public authority should have taken particular action (outside of the actions required by FOI law) or, if it has, what records it should keep in relation to that action.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 051/2017 Margaret Laing and Dundee City Council
    The Council was asked for information about traffic restrictions. After investigation, we were satisfied that the Council disclosed all the information it held falling within the scope of the request.


  • Decision 052/2017 Paul Hutcheon and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland
    The Police were asked for information about the Pitchford Inquiry and undercover policing issues. They were also asked for the names of officers who had received temporary promotion to the rank of Chief Superintendent and above. The Police failed to respond to the request and the request for review within the statutory timescales, and we required them to carry out a review.


  • Decision 053/2017 Paul Fair and City of Glasgow Licensing Board
    Mr Fair asked for information about the processing of a named person's licence application. The Board provided some information but withheld personal data. We agreed that the personal data was exempt from disclosure.


  • Decision 054/2017 Mr X and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland
    Police Scotland were asked for information about the potential involvement of Kenneth MacAskill MSP in the police inquiry into the death of Barry Wallace. Police Scotland refused to comply with the request because to do so would exceed the cost limit of £600. After investigation, we accepted this.


  • Decision 055/2017 Stewart Black and Audit Scotland
    Audit Scotland was asked for a copy of ISA (International Standard on Auditing (UK and Ireland)) 250. It was also asked to specify the page or paragraph within ISA 250 which defined the words "lawful" and "appropriate". We found that Audit Scotland failed to respond to Mr Black's request for review within the statutory timescale.


  • Decision 056/2017 James Duff and the Scottish Ministers
    The Ministers were asked for reports on complaints made to Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and the Scottish Secretary of State. The Ministers responded, explaining why they did not hold reports on these complaints. We accepted that the Ministers did not hold any information covered by Mr Duff's request.

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