Decisions Round-up: 3 to 7 December 2012

There were six decisions published this week, with important learning points for requesters and authorities.

Key messages:

  • Keep FOI requests separate from other correspondence
    An FOI request is more likely to be identified and responded to quickly if it is kept separate from other correspondence. In two decisions issued this week (Decision 194/2012 & Decision 198/2012), requests were contained within correspondence and comment about related issues, which led to problems in the identification and interpretation of the requests. When making a request be as clear as possible, flag up that you are making an information request, and keep it separate from other correspondence if you can. This will help the authority to respond effectively. And remember - you can also ask the authority, or the Commissioner's staff, for advice.


  • Previous correspondence can be a factor when considering whether a request is vexatious
    When assessing whether a request is vexatious, the pattern of previous correspondence with the requester may be relevant. In decision Decision 197/2012, we took into account the large number of previous requests made by the requester when deciding whether a request was vexatious. However, remember that volume alone is unlikely to be the determining factor. In this case, we found that the context and subject matter of the requests, along with their volume, had the effect of harassing the authority.


  • Information which has to be collated will still be "held" by an authority
    Just because information has to be collated in response to a request, does not mean that the requested information is not held by an authority (Decision 196/2012). Authorities should deal with such requests in accordance with FOI (although there may be circumstances where the process of collation takes the cost over the ?600 upper limit).


  • When refusing on cost grounds, provide advice to the requester on refining their request
    When a request is refused on the basis of the ?600 upper limit, appropriate advice and assistance should be provided on how the requester might narrow the request. Providing a breakdown of how costs have been calculated, how would have to be collated, how it is stored, or examples of what could be provided within the upper limit, can all help an applicant to refine the request. (Decision 195/2012)

Summary of decisions:

  • Decision 198/2012 - Mr Hugh Hickman and Scottish Borders Council
    Mr Hickman asked the Council for information relating to the financing of Council services. While some information was provided, the Commissioner found that the Council failed to both provide some information covered by Mr Hickman's requests, and notify him that other information was not held. The Council provided all the outstanding information during the course of our investigation.


  • Decision 197/2012 - Mr Q and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
    Mr Q requested a variety of information from the SPS. We agreed that the requests made were, in this case, vexatious. In reaching this decision, the Commissioner took into account the pattern of Mr Q's previous correspondence with the authority.


  • Decision 196/2012 - Mr Derek Arthur and Fife Council
    Mr Arthur requested information relating to the recording of complaints. While some information was provided, the Council concluded that other information, which would have to be collated, was not held. We found that the Council had failed to provide this information in response to Mr Arthur's request, although relevant information was provided during the course of the investigation.


  • Decision 195/2012 - Mr Andrew Sharp and the Scottish Ministers
    The Ministers refused Mr Sharp's request on the grounds that it exceeded the FOI upper cost limit. While the Commissioner accepted that the cost of responding exceeded the ?600 limit, she also found that Ministers failed to provide reasonable advice and assistance to enable Mr Sharp to narrow his request.


  • Decision 194/2012 - Mr William Cordiner and Tayside Fire and Rescue Board
    The Commissioner found that the Board failed to respond to Mr Cordiner's request and request for review within the appropriate timescale.


  • Decision 193/2012 - The Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture and the Scottish Ministers
    The GAAIA sought information relating to seals killed under licence from the Scottish Ministers. Ministers disclosed some information, but withheld the remainder. The Commissioner found that Ministers had not demonstrated, in their submissions, that disclosure would prejudice substantially public safety, and required the information to be disclosed.


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