Decisions Round-up: 15 to 19 July 2019

FOI law gives people the right to request information from a range of public authorities - but it must be clear what the requester is looking for, and the information must already exist in recorded form. This week's round-up features a case in which an authority was unable to answer part of a request that appeared to seek comment rather than facts.

And remember, if you're unhappy with the response to a request, you can ask the authority to review it - but you need to explain why you're not satisfied.

Learning points:

  • A request must ask for recorded information (and a requester must explain their dissatisfaction when seeking a review)
    FOI is about access to recorded information. While there are no strict rules about how a request should be set out, it has to be clearly seeking information the public authority might hold in some kind of recorded form. Requests can't be used to extract opinion or comment from the authority, unless the opinion or comment is already recorded.

    Also, when asking the authority for a review, the requester must state why they are dissatisfied with the response to the original request. It's not an opportunity to make additional requests. We considered both of these points in detail in Decision 105/2019 and concluded that elements of both the original request and the review request weren't valid.
  • Public authorities should ensure they address all parts of a request
    To ensure a response fulfils the requester's rights fully, it's important that the authority considers the whole request and makes sure it responds to all parts of it. In Decision 106/2019, we found that one part of the request hadn't been addressed, so we told the authority to go back to the requester and give them a response to that part.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 104/2019 Ms B and Dumfries & Galloway Council
    The Council was asked about its handling of an employment dispute with a named person. The Council maintained that no information was held. The Commissioner investigated and was satisfied that, at the time of the request, the Council didn't hold the information.
  • Decision 105/2019 Mr I and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland (Police Scotland)
    Police Scotland was asked a range of questions about their involvement in the risk assessment of registered sex offenders in the community. The Commissioner found that Police Scotland was not obliged to comply with one of the requests as the cost would exceed £600, and also accepted that they didn't hold some of the information requested. However, he wasn't satisfied that Police Scotland had given proper notice that they didn't hold some information, or that they'd given adequate advice and assistance.

  • Decision 106/2019 Mr I and Enjoy East Lothian Ltd (EELL)
    EELL was asked about meetings held between its general manager and a named councillor. EELL provided some information and explained that it didn't hold other information. We investigated and were satisfied of this. However, we also found that EELL hadn't responded to one element of the request and required it to do so. 
  • Decision 107/2019 Mr S and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
    SEPA was asked about the location and nature of waste deposits at Darnconner Open Cast, Auchinleck. SEPA withheld the information. The Commissioner investigated and found that SEPA was entitled to withhold the information as disclosure would, or would be likely to, substantially prejudice its ability to carry out a criminal investigation.

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