Decisions Round-up: 11 to 15 July 2016

There are lots of tips for public authorities in this week's round-up, all of which show how putting in a little bit of time and effort early on can save a lot of time and effort later. Whether it's searching for information, explaining things to a requester, issuing a response on time or providing submissions to us during an investigation, doing it in good time can save authorities extra work further down the line, and ensures the requester gets their answer as early as possible, whether that's the information they're looking for or a final decision on why they can't have it.


Key messages:

  • Don't hold the information? It helps to explain why
    When authorities don't hold requested information, they have to tell the requester. The FOI Act doesn't require the authority to say why it doesn't hold that information. But an explanation will usually help the requester's understanding. For example, in Decision 150/2016, the authority included an event in a published list of official engagements in error. It would have been good practice to explain this to the requester.


  • Search properly before responding to a request
    We've highlighted this before, but it really is important to make sure information is located and provided to the requester at the earliest opportunity. Getting this right can avoid a request for review and/or an appeal to the Commissioner. Getting it wrong delays the requester getting information they're entitled to, or a final decision on why they can't have it. This is something we commented on in Decision 152/2016.


  • Getting submissions right helps everyone
    If a case has to come to the Commissioner, it's important authorities give us comprehensive, focused submissions. If we don't get them first time, we will go back repeatedly for clarification. This was something else we looked at in Decision 152/2016.


  • Remember - respond on time
    As we've said before, there's an absolute duty on public authorities to respond to information requests on time. It's important if requesters are to continue having confidence in the FOI process. Decisions 147/2016, 148/2016 and 149/2016 are all examples of where this didn't happen.


Decisions issued:


  • Decision 147/2016 Ibena Textilwerke GMBH (Ibena) and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS)
    Ibena asked SFRS for information about a tender. SFRS failed to respond to both Ibena's request and its request for review within the timescales allowed by the FOI Act.


  • Decision 148/2016 Tom Gordon and Scottish Ministers (the Ministers)
    Mr Gordon asked the Ministers about the potential creation of a Scottish Monetary Authority. We found that the Ministers failed to respond to Mr Gordon's request and request for review on time.


  • Decision 149/2016 Dr Ray Brettle and City of Edinburgh Council
    Dr Brettle asked the Council for information about a vehicle. The Council failed to respond on time.


  • Decision 150/2016 Tommy Kane and Scottish Ministers (the Ministers)
    Mr Kane asked the Ministers for information about two meetings attended by the First Minister according to a published list of public engagements in her diary. The Ministers disclosed some information about the first meeting, and informed Mr Kane they did not hold any information about the second meeting, which had been private. Some additional information was disclosed at review. We found that the Ministers did not hold any further information and had responded properly, although they could have explained to Mr Kane that the second meeting was published on the list in error.


  • Decision 151/2016 Angus Files and Argyll and Bute Council
    Mr Files asked the Council for CCTV footage, which it initially withheld as personal data. At review the Council found it could extract information specific to Mr Files' request and provided this to him. After investigating, we were satisfied that this was all the relevant information the Council held.


  • Decision 152/2016 Peter Bennet and Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT)
    Mr Bennet asked SPT for information regarding the Glasgow Subway. SPT disclosed some information, withholding the remainder as it believed disclosure would compromise the safety and security of the Subway trains, depot, staff and passengers. We found that SPT was entitled to withhold the remainder of the information requested, on the basis that its disclosure would be likely to endanger the health or safety of individuals.

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