Decisions Round-up: 30 January - 3 February 2017

Requests for personal data require the requester's right to know to be balanced against an individual's (or individuals') right to privacy. In one case this week, we found that the right to know outweighed the right to privacy. There's also a reminder to consider whether information is environmental at the outset and a case where we had to be clear about the limit of our own powers.

Learning points:


  •  Personal data: privacy vs the right to know
    Although personal data is protected by the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), it can be disclosed under FOI if this can be done without breaching any of the DPA's "data protection principles". Decision 012/2017 is a case where we found that the requester had a "legitimate interest" in obtaining information relating to patient safety, which outweighed the right to privacy.


  • Did the authority act lawfully? We can only investigate FOI law
    Requesters sometimes ask about the legal basis for a public authority's actions. In Decision 014/2017 the requester did not agree with the authority's interpretation of the legal position. We cannot investigate a dispute about the way non-FOI legislation has been interpreted and applied by an authority. We can only look at whether the requested information is held by the authority, and whether there has been any breach of FOI law.

  • Remember to ask - is it environmental?
    Authorities must respond to requests for environmental information under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (the EIRs). In Decision 011/2017 and Decision 013/2017, we required the public authority to respond again to two requests for environmental information (information about major construction contracts) which hadn't been considered under the correct legislation.

Decisions issued:



  •  Decision 010/2017 Iain Baikie and Highland Council
    Highland Council was asked for information about Wick High School finances and educational resources. We found that the Council failed to respond to the request for review within the FOI timescales. 


  • Decision 011/2017 Rob Edwards and Lothian Health Board (NHS Lothian)
    NHS Lothian was asked for contract information relating to the redevelopment of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital campus. Some information was withheld.

    We found that the request had been considered under the wrong legislation, as it covered environmental information. We required NHS Lothian to respond to the request under the EIRs. 


  • Decision 012/2017 David Neilson and Highland Health Board (NHS Highland)
    Mr Neilson asked for the staff cover rotas for the Casualty department and out-of-hours GPs for Dunoon Hospital and the Cowal peninsula.

    NHS Highland disclosed anonymised versions of the rotas, without showing which doctors worked each shift.

    We found that three of the withheld names should be disclosed, and that this could be done without breaching any of the data protection principles because of the legitimate interest in disclosing information relating to patient safety.


  • Decision 013/2017 Billy Briggs and Lothian Health Board (NHS Lothian)
    NHS Lothian was asked for contract information relating to the construction of the new Royal Hospital for Sick Children and the adjacent Department of Clinical Neurosciences. Some information was withheld.

    We found that the request should have been considered under the EIRs and not the FOI Act, as it covered environmental information. We required NHS Lothian to respond under the EIRs.


  • Decision 014/2017 Richard Townsend-Rose and the Scottish Ministers
    The Ministers were asked for information about their understanding of the law concerning non-domestic water and sewerage charges. They withheld the information on the basis that it could be reasonably obtained by the requester other than by requesting it under the FOI Act. We accepted this.


  • Decision 015/2017 David Telford and North Ayrshire Council
    The Council was asked for evidence that certain health and safety measures had been implemented, in relation to a drainage pool and sediment trap. The Council provided some information. Mr Telford believed the information was missing crucial details which would confirm whether the Council was responsible for the maintenance and safety of the sediment trap.

    We found that the Council had provided all the recorded information it held at the time Mr Telford made his request, at which point some measures were still being implemented.

Resolved cases:


We also resolved eight cases in January without the need for a formal decision. The summaries below show some of the ways in which this was achieved.


  • The requester agreed to withdraw their appeal after we explained that there had been no breach of the FOI legislation.


  •  In three cases, the public authority provided information and more explanation, which satisfied the requesters.


  • One requester withdrew and asked for the information under the Data Protection Act, after we explained it was her own personal data.


  • The public authority withdrew a previous response (which found the request was "vexatious") and provided an alternative response to the requester. 


  •  One appeal was withdrawn, with no reason given by the requester.


  •  In one case, it was only after appealing to us that the requester realised he had received a response from the authority - the response had been caught by his spam filter.


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