Decisions Round-up: 24 to 28 February 2014

We published twelve decisions this week.


Key messages:

  • Disclose the information that you can
    Where they can’t release all the requested information, it’s important for authorities to disclose what they can, as this may have a bearing on whether on balance the public interest lies in disclosing or withholding the remaining information. In Decision 028/2014, the authority released some of the requested information and only withheld information about unit pricing. The authority was able to clearly show why disclosure of that particular information would harm the contractor’s commercial interests.

  • Consider carefully whether exemptions actually apply
    In many cases, we see information which was initially withheld being disclosed during the investigation. Often the conclusion reached is that the wrong exemption was applied in the first place. In Decision 029/2014, the authority was unable to justify to the Commissioner why information was withheld.


  • Remember your duty to provide advice and assistance
    As was highlighted in Decision 034/2014, where a request is not entirely clear or it could be interpreted in more than one way, authorities should contact the requester to clarify what they is looking for.


  • Authorities should not withhold information merely because it might cause confusion or be misinterepted
    As noted in Decision 039/2014 if an authority has concerns that information it discloses might cause confusion or be misinterpreted, it should seek to provide the requester with additional context to help reduce the likelihood of this happening. It is unlikely that we will accept that disclosure of information would not be in the public interest, simply because it may cause confusion or be misinterpreted.   


 Decisions issued:


  • Decision 028/2014 – Your Home Partners and North Lanarkshire Council
    Your Home Partners asked for information about a tendering process. The Council provided a link to some information which was already in the public domain and released additional information. The remainder was withheld under the exemption protecting commercial interests (section 33 of the Act). The Council was able to show why disclosure of the withheld information would harm the contractor’s commercial interests and we accepted that the withheld information was exempt from disclosure.    


  • Decision 029/2014 – Mr Peter Bennett and North Lanarkshire Council
    Mr Bennett asked the Council for information about its employment of a surveyor who surveyed his house. Initially, the Council said that it had not employed the surveyor in the last five years and therefore did not hold the requested information. At review, the Council found that the surveyor had in fact been employed once in that period and shared this with Mr Bennett. But it withheld the name of the person who had appointed the surveyor. During the investigation the Council released the name of the person who had employed the surveyor. We accepted that the remaining information requested was not held by the Council. 


  • Decision 030/2014 and Decision 031/2014 – Mr Laurel Bush and Highland Council
    Two technical decisions where we found in both cases Highland Council had not responded to Mr Bush’s requests for review within 20 working days.


  • Decision 032/2014 – Mr Colin Kerr and Dumfries and Galloway Health Board
    The Health Board responded to Mr Kerr’s requests for information about its staff by informing him that disclosure would breach data protection law. We agreed that the information requested was the employees’ personal data and that disclosure would breach the first data protection principle. Therefore, the Health Board was correct to withhold the information under section 38(1)(b) of the Act.  


  • Decision 033/2014 – Ms Carole Ewart and the Scottish Ministers
    Ms Ewart asked the Ministers for the legal advice that the Scottish Government used to make its decision on whether the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill was compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Following an investigation, we found that the Ministers were entitled to withhold the advice, which was subject to legal professional privilege.  The public interest in its release did not outweigh that in maintaining the confidentiality of communications between a legal adviser and their client.  


  • Decision 034/2014 – Livingstone Terrace Residents Action Group  and Falkirk Council
    Following the response to an earlier request, LTRAG asked the Council for the exact time a response had been issued to an email from an elected member.  The request was ambiguous and could have been interpreted in two ways.  The Council released information during the investigation.  We found that the Council had complied with the request. We noted that it could have provided advice and assistance with the request.


  • Decision 035/2014 – Mr D Gallant and Strathclyde Partnership for Transport
    Following our investigation, we accepted that SPT had provided Mr Gallant with all the information falling within the scope of his request about the Strathclyde concessionary fare scheme.


  • Decision 036/2014 – Mr Andrew Picken and the Scottish Ministers
    technical decision about two information requests. We found that the Ministers failed to respond to either Mr Picken’s information requests or his requests for review within 20 working days.


  • Decision 037/2014 and Decision 038/2014 – Mr Jock Meikle and the Scottish Ministers
    Two technical decisions where we found that in both cases the Ministers failed to respond to either Mr Meikle’s requests or his requests for review within 20 working days   


  • Decision 039/2014 – Mr Billy Briggs and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Briggs asked the Ministers for information about a Scottish Qualifications Authority project in Bahrain. The Ministers withheld some of the information on the grounds that disclosure would harm the effective conduct of public affairs (section 30 of the Act). We found that the Ministers had been entitled to withhold some of the information, and that the public interest favoured non-disclosure. However, we found that the remaining information should be disclosed.    



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