Decisions Round-up: 1 to 5 February 2016

This week's round-up highlights the importance for both requesters and authorities of carefully considering the information likely to be covered by a request.

For authorities, there are a number of cases where extra information was identified during our investigations - with seven cases then able to be resolved without a decision.

And for a requester, the narrow wording used in the request meant that we weren't able to examine whether other information of interest was held by the authority.


Key messages:

  • All requests for environmental information must be responded to under the EIRs
    In two of this week's cases, public authorities failed to recognise that the requester was looking for environmental information. In both cases (Decisions 015/2016 and 017/2016), the public authority accepted this during our investigation. As we've said before, the EIRs differ from the FOI Act in a number of areas, so it's important that all staff recognise environmental information requests and know how to respond to them.


  • Search for information as soon as you can
    With emails in particular, it may be vital to carry out a quick search, to minimise the risk of the information being routinely destroyed. We emphasised the need for this in Decision 010/2016.


  • Make sure your searches are adequate
    In Decision 017/2016, the public authority identified information during our investigation which should have been found before the requester appealed to us. It's important to identify all relevant information - and then give it to the requester as soon as possible (unless there's a legitimate reason for withholding it). Our self-assessment toolkit has advice and guidance to help authorities improve their searches.


  • FOI law is about making information available to the public
    If you think you should have a special right to see sensitive information because of your position (e.g. as a councillor), FOI is unlikely to be able to help you. We can only consider whether the information should be accessible under FOI law - and that means whether it should be available to the public as a whole. (Decision 017/2016)


  • Make sure you understand the consequences of limiting your request
    If you're clear in restricting the scope of your request to particular departments of a public authority, it's unlikely that we'll be able to make the public authority look any more widely for that information. So think carefully, to make sure you've described what you're looking for adequately by specifying those departments. (Decision 018/2016).


  • As ever, make sure you respond on time
    In a number of the cases considered this week, the public authority failed to respond within the required timescales. Public authorities need to remember that FOI timescales are mandatory, and must be adhered to.  Our self-assessment toolkit also has guidance to help authorities ensure that they are responding on time.


  • To avoid delays, don't get side-tracked by other issues
    A requester may make a complaint or raise other matters in correspondence, at the same time as asking for information. It's important that you separate out information requests (and review requests), in order to ensure you can respond on time. In the case which led to Decision 015/2016, the Council acknowledged that it could have done this more effectively.

Decisions issued:


  • Decision 010/2016 Murray Sinclair and Orkney Islands Council
    Mr Sinclair asked the Council for a copy of an email from a planning officer to a developer. The Council provided Mr Sinclair with an email. Mr Sinclair did not accept that this email was the one he had requested. On review, the Council confirmed that it did not hold the email sought by Mr Sinclair, which we accepted after an investigation.


  • Decision 013/2016 Kenny Baird and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
    Mr Baird asked the SPS for the number of Partnership Liaison Representatives who currently held Health and Safety certificates. The SPS responded that this information was personal data which was exempt from disclosure. Following a review, the SPS told Mr Baird that it did not hold the information. Following our investigation, we accepted this.


  • Decision 014/2016 Patrick Kelly and NHS Tayside
    Mr Kelly asked NHS Tayside for investigation reports and governance arrangements relating to a named person. We found that NHS Tayside failed to respond to Mr Kelly's request and request for review within the FOI Act's timescales.


  • Decision 015/2016 Mrs H and East Dunbartonshire Council
    Mrs H asked the Council for information relating to a planning application. The Council stated that the information was already available on its website. We found that the Council failed to identify all the relevant information before Mrs H appealed to us (additional information was identified and provided during our investigation) and also that it should have responded under the Environmental Information Regulations instead of under the FOI Act.


  • Decision 016/2016 Robert Kidd and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland (Police Scotland)
    Mr Kidd asked Police Scotland for information on a particular matter. Police Scotland refused to confirm or deny whether they held the information, or whether the information existed. We investigated and found that they were entitled to do this.


  • Decision 017/2016 Councillor Brian McCabe and Falkirk Council
    Councillor McCabe made a number of information requests relating to the Denny Regeneration Project. The Council provided some information but withheld other information as commercially sensitive. The Council disclosed more information after Councillor McCabe appealed to us. It continued to withhold a small amount of information, and we agreed that it was correct to do so.


  • Decision 018/2016 Mr Tom Gordon and Scottish Ministers
    Mr Gordon asked the Ministers for information about the creation of a Scottish Monetary Authority. The Ministers informed Mr Gordon that they did not hold the information. While we found that the Ministers failed to comply with the timescales for responding, we accepted that they didn't hold the information.


Resolved cases

We also resolved eleven cases in January without the need for a formal decision. The summaries below provide insight into the less visible, but very important, role that resolution can play in improving relationships between authorities and requesters.

These are the reasons the cases were resolved:

  • The information was disclosed during the investigation
    In the majority of the cases (seven), the authorities disclosed the information they held during our investigation. In one of these, the authority withheld some information as personal data. In all of them, the requester withdrew after receiving the information.


  • The public authority responded to the request
    In two cases, the authority responded, having blocked the requester's emails previously. Having received a response, the requester withdrew.


  • The public authority had responded already
    In the final two cases, the requester had overlooked a response already sent by authority. On finding the response in each case, the requester withdrew.

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