Decisions Round-up: 15 to 19 October 2018

It's a whole Round-up focussing on searches this week, with guidance for authorities carrying out searches, and for requesters, who may not be sure what authorities have to do, or how we will investigate whether searches were conducted properly. Authorities that want to check how they're performing can complete our self-assessment toolkit on searching for, locating and retrieving information.

Learning points:

  • Are the searches reasonable?
    A lot of our cases involve checking whether a public authority holds information. We have to determine, on the balance of probabilities, whether information is held. We'll look at the scope, quality and thoroughness of the searches carried out by the public authority. We'll also think about whether it's likely that the public authority would hold recorded information falling within the scope of the request.

    In Decision 158/2018, we were satisfied that the authority did not - and would not - hold the information the requester had asked for.
  • Will the searches find the right thing?
    Searches need to be accurate, not only so that all the information covered by the request can be found, but so that the authority's searches are not unnecessarily wide. In , the authority's search was wider than the scope of the request and the requester was led to believe that some information was being withheld from them when it wasn't covered by the request. This caused confusion and delays.
  • There should be evidence of what searches have been carried out
    When a case is appealed to the Commissioner, one of the first things we'll do is ask the authority to tell us what searches they carried out, who carried out the searches and what the results were. The Scottish Ministers' Section 60 Code requires authorities to record this information (paragraphs 6.2.3).

    In Decision 157/2018, it took almost six months for the authority to provide the Commissioner with an accurate set of information. This showed that the authority hadn't maintained a record of searches in line with the Section 60 Code.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 156/2018 X and Glasgow City Council
    The Council was asked about the Israel-Palestine Learning and Teaching Resource. It disclosed some information, but withheld some personal data. During our investigation, the Council acknowledged it should have disclosed more of the information it held. The Commissioner ordered the Council to disclose that information, but was otherwise satisfied that the remaining information was personal data and exempt from disclosure. The Commissioner was also satisfied that the Council had located all of the information it held.
  • Decision 157/2018 Company A and the Scottish Ministers
    Company A asked about a proposed development at Hyndford Quarry and about the decision by UNESCO to designate the Forth Bridge as a World Heritage Site. The Ministers provided some information, and stated that other information did not have to be disclosed as the exception in regulation 10(4)(e) of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 applied. The Commissioner agreed that some of the information was excepted from disclosure, as it comprised internal communications and the public interest favoured disclosure, but ordered the Ministers to disclose the remainder.
  • Decision 158/2018 Mr Y and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Y asked the Ministers for the evidence upon which a named Minister had found that certain claims were a matter of allegation as opposed to fact. The Commissioner was satisfied that the Ministers had carried out appropriate searches and did not hold the requested information.
  • G Gillon and Police Scotland
    Police Scotland were asked about complaints alleging anti-Catholicism. They withheld the information, on the grounds that to disclose it could be detrimental to an ongoing investigation and could prejudice future enquiries, causing substantial prejudice to the administration of justice. The Commissioner accepted that the information, to the extent that it fell within the scope of the request, was correctly withheld.
  • Decisions 160/2018 and 161 Mr X and NHS Dumfries and Galloway
    NHS Dumfries and Galloway was asked about any letters from the requester that contained "threatening language" and about letters from Mr X which were "malicious, threatening or aggressive". NHS Dumfries and Galloway initially refused to confirm or deny whether it held the information, but later argued that it did not hold the information. After investigation, the Commissioner concluded that no recorded information falling within the scope of the requests was held.

Back to Top