Decisions Round-up: 30 September to 4 October 2013

We published four decisions this week.


Key messages:

  • Think how to frame your request to avoid it being prohibitively burdensome

To avoid a request being refused because it would impose a significant burden on the resources of a public authority (or exceed the cost threshold) try to make your request specific enough so the information you are seeking can be narrowed down. Don't forget you can speak to authorities in advance about making your request, as they have a duty to provide advice and assistance. Although you do not have to tell an authority why you are asking for information, you may find it helpful to explain the context to them, so that the authority can help you.

  • Take care when drafting notices

It's important to take care when drafting notices in response to requests, or requests for review. Make sure that your notices are technically correct and fulfil all your obligations, as set out in legislation. Loose drafting can create confusion and may lead to an avoidable appeal, with all the cost that entails.


Summary of decisions:

Mr McLaughlin asked Ministers for media statements prepared in anticipation of questions being asked, but not published (i.e. "if asked" statements). Ministers refused on a number of grounds. When it came to us on appeal, Ministers claimed the request was vexatious because it placed a manifestly unreasonable burden on their resources. They explained how collation of this information would require a Government-wide trawl which would significantly disrupt the Government's day to day work. The Commissioner accepted this, and also Ministers' argument that, as a journalist, Mr McLaughlin had access to a range of sources to enable him to focus his request, but chose not to. She found that the request was vexatious.

Mr Quinn asked for a range of information about a court case, including copies of court documents containing the judge's signature. The SCS told Mr Quinn it had already provided him with some information, and did not hold the rest. When Mr Quinn appealed, the Commissioner agreed with the SCS, but found it should have advised Mr Quinn that the document with the judge's signature was otherwise available to him (i.e. he could view it at Parliament House).

Mr F asked for correspondence on any policy review relating to the purchase of a laptop by a prisoner. The SPS initially claimed it would cost more than £600 to comply. When Mr F sought a review, it upheld its original decision without modification, but went on to claim it did not hold the information. Mr F complained that the review notice he received was inaccurate. The Commissioner found that the SCS had generally complied with FOISA but, in stating it had confirmed its original decision without modification, it hadn't dealt with Mr F's request for review correctly.

Mr Murphy asked for correspondence and other records relating to the Scottish Government's alcohol minimum pricing policy. Ministers released some information but withheld some on the grounds that it was communications between Ministers and it was in the public interest to withhold it. They argued that, as this policy is still under active development, it is in the public interest for Ministers to be able to consider all available options candidly and rigorously. Ministers asserted that release of the information would inhibit this, and the Commissioner agreed.



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