Decisions Round-up: 11 to 15 March 2013

We published nine decisions this week involving a range of public authorities, including two health boards, a local council, the Scottish Ministers and the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator.


Key messages:

  • Good records management helps resolve FOI cases quickly
    Good records management doesn't only help authorities respond to requests quickly and effectively - it can also help bring a faster resolution to FOI appeals. In Decision 034/2013, the authority was able to quickly and clearly provide evidence to the Commissioner of the searches it had undertaken in order to demonstrate that it did not hold the requested information.


  • You must respond FULLY within 20 working days...
    It's not acceptable to issue only a "holding" response within 20 working days - both the FOI Act and the EIRs require that (in most circumstances) a full response is provided. In Decision 040/2013, while the authority wrote to the requester within 20 working days, this only explained that information was still being searched for.


  • ensure that internal procedures don't obstruct your ability to respond
    It's also important to ensure that all internal processes are geared up to accommodate FOI. In one decision issued this week an authority was dealing with a related complaint from a requester, and decided to respond to the request and complaint at the same time. However, this led to the FOI response being delayed beyond 20 working days. The authority has since amended its procedures so that requests will be dealt with separately in future (Decision 036/2013).


  • When requesting information, be as clear as you can in your request
    When making a request, describe what you are looking for as clearly as you possibly can. If you haven't asked for a specific piece of information, the authority can't be expected to provide it. In Decision 037/2013, the requester asked for copies of electronic files, but what he really wanted was the electronic background information, or "metadata", relating to those files. As this wasn't clear from the request, there was no obligation to provide it.


Summary of decisions:

  • Decision 034/2013 - Mr O and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR)
    Following investigation, the Commissioner upheld OSCR's response that it did not hold any information about complaints relating to a named Citizens Advice Bureau.


  • Decision 035/2013 - Mrs Carolyn Neilson and Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board
    Mrs Neilson requested information about an investigation into GP working hours. While some information was provided, other information was withheld under the FOI Act's "personal information" exemption (section 38). While we agreed that some information was exempt for this reason, our investigation also found other relevant information which was held by the Board. We required this information to be disclosed to Mrs Neilson.


  • Decision 036/2013 - Mr George Matthews and Borders NHS Board
    The Board refused Mr Matthews' request for details of the cost of different types of hearing aids, arguing that disclosure would harm the commercial interests of the suppliers. Following investigation, we agreed that the authority had been right to withhold the information for this reason. We also found that the Board had failed to respond within the statutory FOI timescales.


  • Decision 037/2013 - Mr James Hornall and North Lanarkshire Council
    The Council refused Mr Hornall's request for electronic copies of files submitted by a successful tenderer for a contract. He had previously been sent information from the files in response to an earlier request. In his application (but not his request), Mr Hornall told us he wanted the metadata which related to the files, and had requested the files in electronic format in order to access this. Our investigation found that the metadata was not within the scope of the request. As a result, the Commissioner had no alternative but to conclude that the request, as is stood, was repeated, and could therefore be refused under section 14(2) of the FOI Act.


  • Decision 038/2013 - Mr Andrew Picken of the Mail on Sunday and the Scottish Ministers
  • Decision 039/2013 - Mr Tom Gordon and the Scottish Ministers
    Two technical decisions: the Ministers failed to respond to requests from journalists within the 20 working day period.


  • Decision 040/2013 - Banknock Haggs & Longcroft Community Council and Scottish Water
    Another technical decision: Scottish Water failed to respond to a request for review within the required period.


  • Decision 041/2013 - Mr G and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
    Mr G, a prisoner, asked for a copy of a guidance document held by the SPS. He was informed that the information was accessible to him through the prison library. Our decision finds that the Mr G did not have reasonable access to the information and that, as a result, the SPS had wrongly applied the "otherwise accessible" exemption (section 25). This decision explores similar issues to Decision 005/2013, which was discussed in an earlier round-up.

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