Decisions Round-up: 24 to 28 March 2014

We published seven decisions this week.


Key messages:

  • Requests and requests for review must be responded to "promptly" and in any event within 20 working days

Regular readers will know that in most editions of the Decisions Round-up we highlight technical decisions involving a failure to respond to a request or a review (and sometimes both) within statutory timescales. We published seven decisions this week, four of which focused on a failure to respond. And three of these four cases concerned a failure to respond both to the request and to request for review.

Here's the list from Decisions Round-up 4 to 8 November 2013 of the things an authority can do to increase the likelihood of responding to requests within FOI timescales:

  • Chief executive and senior management team buy-in to the principles of FOI and how this is integrated into the organisation's corporate information management and governance arrangements.
  • Robust performance reporting systems, including reporting at a senior level.
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities of those involved in dealing with FOI requests and staff are aware of the arrangements.
  • Clear administrative arrangements to allow FOI officers to escalate issues to senior management.
  • Robust logging and tracking systems to ensure that issues can be picked up in plenty of time.
  • Sufficient resilience arrangements in place to avoid bottlenecks when the usual staff are not available.
  • Effective basic training arrangements to ensure that all staff within an authority can identify information requests (both written and verbal) and know who to pass the request to for processing.
  • During an investigation...

If it becomes clear to the authority during an investigation (as in Decision 066/2014) that information previously withheld in response to a request is not after all exempt from disclosure, it is best practice for the information to be provided straight away rather than waiting for the Commissioner's decision.

  • Ensure that you fully understand what the requester is looking for

It is vital that in responding to a request, the authority fully understands what the requester is looking for. The authority then has to identify all the information it holds within the scope of that request before responding to the requester.

Decisions issued:

Technical decision where we found that the Health Board failed to respond to Mr Sabato's request for review within 20 working days

Mr Gregson requested information about a statutory nuisance notice. Some information was provided and some was withheld under the FOI exemption protecting personal data (section 38 of the Act). We found that the Council had been entitled to withhold information comprising the personal data of members of the public and junior members of staff, but that other information should be disclosed.

Two technical decisions about the Northern Isles ferry services tender and procurement process where we found that Transport Scotland failed to respond to either of Shetland Line's requests for information or their requests for review within 20 working days.

Mr Mackay made three requests to the Council for information about appointments under the Curators ad litem and Reporting Officers (Panels) (Scotland) Regulations 2001. The Council failed to respond to two of Mr MacKay's requests, but provided some information following a review. Following our investigation, we found that the Council had failed to provide Mr MacKay with all the relevant information it held.

ABW Consultants asked the Council for information about a planning development. The Council responded by providing some information to ABW Consultants and notifying them that it did not hold other information. It withheld the remaining information under the exemptions in FOISA relating to legal professional privilege and the effective conduct of public affairs. We found that the Council should have dealt with the request under the EIRs. We accepted that the Council was entitled to withhold most of the information under the EIR exceptions it claimed during the investigation, but required it to disclose some additional information to ABW Consultants.

In this technical decision we found that the Ministers failed to respond to Mr Hutcheon's request and request for review within 20 working days.

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