Decisions Round-up: 1 to 5 December 2014

We published four decisions this week, including two which highlight the part that taking a thorough, customer-focussed approach to responses can play in reducing the likelihood of FOI appeals.


Key messages:

  • Requesters might need advice and assistance even if you don't hold the information
    If you don't hold some of the information a requester has asked for, you should tell the requester what information you don't hold - and, if possible, why you don't hold it. Decision 246/2014 is a case where, if the public authority had given a better explanation, the requester might not have appealed to the Commissioner.
  • Remember to respond to the whole of the request
    When requests are made in multiple parts, it's a good idea to check that you're covering the whole of the request with your reply. In Decision 247/2014, the authority carried out searches covering all four parts of the request. However, the response focused on one part, giving the impression that the others parts had been ignored. A more detailed response might have reduced the likelihood of an appeal to the Commissioner.
  • FOI isn't always "applicant blind"
    Although we often talk about FOI being "applicant blind", the identity of the requester can sometimes be relevant when deciding whether an exemption applies. In Decision 248/2014, the requester asked for information which the public authority had already provided to his solicitor. As the requester could easily get the information from his solicitors, we found it was "otherwise reasonably obtainable" to him and exempt under section 25 of the FOI Act.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 246/2014 Michael Roulston and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary (HMICS)
    Mr Roulston asked HMICS about any monitoring that had taken place of officers holding temporary chief officer positions without a mandatory qualification. HMICS only held some of the information Mr Roulston asked for. We found that HMICS hadn't given Mr Roulston the advice and assistance he needed to understand what information they did and didn't hold.
  • Decision 247/2014 Thomas Meechan and East Dunbartonshire Council
    Mr Meechan asked the Council about inspections carried out at, and complaints made about, a named address. Following an investigation, we accepted that the Council didn't hold any information falling within the scope of Mr Meechan's request.
  • Decision 248/2014 Mr X and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr X asked the Ministers for information they had already given to his solicitor for the purposes of a court case. We agreed that the information was exempt from disclosure under the "otherwise accessible" exemption (section 25(1)) - it was information Mr X could reasonably obtain without making a request for it under the Act.
  • Decision 249/2014 Paul Hutcheon and the Scottish Ministers
    Here, we found that the Ministers failed to respond to Mr Hutcheon's request or request for review within the timescales set down by the Act. The Minsters issued a response during the investigation.

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