Decisions Round-up: 29 May to 02 June 2017

With local elections just passed and the general election around the corner, this week's round-up has a timely case which explains the position of the Returning Officer and FOI. We also look again at personal data and the correct route for accessing your own information.

Learning points:

  • Are you looking for information about yourself?
    If you're looking for your own personal information, you have rights to get that information under the Data Protection Act (the DPA). If you go down that route, the information will normally just be disclosed to you (unless it is exempt). FOI automatically makes a requester's own personal data exempt, because disclosure under FOI means disclosure to the public. We looked at this in two decisions this week - 082/2017 and 085/2017.
  • The Returning Officer isn't part of the Council
    The Electoral Returning Officer in any area is usually a senior officer of the local authority. However, this is a separate role and the Returning Officer's electoral functions are not functions of the Council. As a result, Returning Officers are not subject to FOI. While a Council may physically hold some information relating to the Returning Officer it won't be held in terms of FOI, because it's held on behalf of the Returning Officer. (Decision 083/2017).
  • Think about whether information might be environmental
    Remember that requests for environmental information are covered by a separate regime, the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (the EIRs). We noted in Decision 084/2017 that the request (about flooding and water damage to Council land) appeared to be for environmental information. Although the outcome would have been no different in this particular case, we suggested that this was something the public authority should consider carefully in future cases.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 082/2017 Peter Low and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (the SCTS)
    The SCTS refused to disclose information under FOI as it was the requester's own personal data and therefore exempt from disclosure. We found that the SCTS was entitled to do this.
  • Decision 083/2017 Dr Ian Graham and Aberdeen City Council
    The Council was asked about the opening of postal vote ballot papers. It refused to comply with the request, claiming that any information it held was held on behalf of the Returning Officer rather than in its own right. The Commissioner accepted that the Returning Officer was separate from the Council and that the information was held on the Returning Officer's behalf. This meant the Council did not hold the information for the purposes of the FOI Act.
  • Decision 084/2017 Lynn Watson and Dundee City Council
    The Council was asked for information on flooding and water damage at St Paul's Academy in Dundee. The Council informed Ms Watson that it did not hold the information, which we accepted.
  • Decision 085/2017 Bill Mair and Fife Council
    The Council was asked about a complaint. The Commissioner found that the Council was entitled to withhold information about the complaint under FOI as it was the requester's own personal information.


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