Decisions Round-up: 12 to 16 October 2015

 In this week's Round-up we stress the importance of carrying out thorough, documented searches, explaining the context of disclosed information and checking whether requested information is already in the public domain. These are all important aspects of good request handling - and avoiding appeals. We also provide a summary of a case involving a rarely cited exemption, international relations.

Key messages:

  • Keep records of searches - and make them thorough
    If you identify and provide all information in response to a request you may avoid a request for review or even an appeal to us. In Decision 156/2015, we criticised an authority for failing to keep records of its searches, which led to fresh searches being required during the investigation. Conducting thorough, focussed searches, identifying all relevant information at an early stage, and retaining records of searches can save a lot of time and work.

    Decision 155/2015 is another case where more information was identified and provided during the investigation, resulting in a decision against the authority which could have been avoided.
  • Explaining the context is always helpful
    It may not be clear to the requester why some information is covered by their request, or why some information isn't available. In Decision 156/2015, we found that the authority did not initially give the requester enough explanation to allow it to understand the scope and relevance of the information it was providing. The authority therefore failed to provide adequate advice and assistance.

    In Decision 157/2015, the requester provided a clear explanation of the difficulties he had experienced in obtaining the information from other sources, which helped us understand the context of the case. In the same case, the authority consulted a third party and then provided us with copies of the correspondence, in support of their submission. This helped us understand the background to the case. We agreed with the authority that the information should be not be disclosed.
  • Check whether the information is already public knowledge
    Decision154/2015 involves a case where the authority refused to disclose the first page of a vehicle report. This information had already been disclosed by its predecessor authority and was still accessible through an archived website. It's a good idea to check whether your authority has published part or all of the requested information. If so, it's unlikely that an exemption (other than one of those in section 25) would apply.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision154/2015 Paul Delamore and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland (Police Scotland)
    Mr Delamore asked for information about events surrounding the death of Mr Willie Macrae. He did not receive a copy of the first page of a vehicle report which fell within the scope of his request and which had previously been disclosed in response to another request. The authority didn't give us reasons to apply the exemption to this information which was on an archived website. We required Police Scotland to disclose the information.
  • Decision 155/2015 Susan Murray and East Lothian Council (the Council)
    Mrs Murray asked the Council for information about her application for a high hedge notice. The Council provided some information, but Mrs Murray believed it held more and that this should have been provided to her. During the investigation, further information was located and provided to Mrs Murray.
  • Decision 156/2015 Company Y and Highland Council (the Council)
    Company Y asked for information about a heating upgrade contract it had been involved with. The Council provided some information, but Company Y believed that the Council held more information. During the investigation more information was identified and the Council provided it. We identified several shortcomings in the way the Council had handled Company Y's request (see key messages above).
  • Decision 157/2015 Martin Arndt and the Register General for Births, Deaths and Marriages for Scotland (the Registrar)
    Mr Arndt asked for the minutes of the meetings of the General Assembly and Bureau of the International Commission on Civil Status which were held in Strasbourg in March 2006. After review, the Registrar accepted that he held the information for the purposes of the FOI Act, but withheld it on the basis that the information was confidential and obtained from an international organisation.

    Following investigation, we found that the Registrar had correctly withheld the minutes. This is one of only a few cases we have investigated which considers the exemption in section 32(1)(b)(ii) of FOISA, International relations.

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