Decisions Round-up: 7 to 11 January 2013

We published four decisions this week.

Key messages:

  • Release under FOISA is release to the wider general public

Don't forget that, where information is released under FOI or the EIRs, it is effectively made publicly accessible to anyone.  For example, in Decision 215/2012, the Keeper withheld personal information because to release it to the applicant under FOI would have been a release not just to the individual applicant, but to the wider public domain.  An appreciation of this might help applicants understand why, on occasion, personal data may be refused (even if they do not intend to share it).

  • Explain your decisions to applicants

In Decision 213/2012, the Council may have avoided an application to the Commissioner if they had better explained to the applicants why the information they had requested did not exist.  Remember that applicants will not usually have the same understanding of your ways of working ? providing important contextual information can help them understand why you have reached your decision about their request.

  • Couch your arguments in terms of the specific information requested

Over recent months, we have highlighted examples where authorities have offered overly-general arguments in support of exemptions or exceptions, and as a result the Commissioner has been unable to accept that they applied to the information in question.  This week, Decision 214/2012 is a good example of where specific evidence was supplied in support of an exemption, which enabled the Commissioner to uphold its use.

Summary of decisions:

  • Decision 216/2012 - Mr Martin McGartland and the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police

Mr McGartland asked the Police for information which had been provided to a review panel which was reviewing the Police's response to a previous request from him.  The Commissioner found that most of the information was exempt ? she accepted that internal reviews involve discussing the outcome of the authority's previous decision, and there may be cases where release of such information would prejudice the review process.  In this particular case, the review concerned a response in which the Police had chosen to neither confirm nor deny whether the information existed or was held.  In this case, disclosure of apparently innocuous information could undermine that decision.

Mr Buchan asked the Keeper for files relating to certain residential establishments.  While the Keeper advised Mr Buchan that he could see copies of the files at General Register House, with personal information removed, Mr Buchan was not happy with this and appealed to us.  The Commissioner found that the information was personal and the data subjects would reasonably expect it to remain private.

Mr X asked Ministers for information relating to what representation Scotland would have on the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) if Scotland became separate from the rest of the UK.  Ministers' submissions to the Commissioner were able to demonstrate that the specific information requested consisted of early views and options of possible Scottish Government policy.  She found that it is in the public interest for such views to be candidly discussed before a settled public view is reached and she upheld the Ministers' decision to withhold the information.

The applicants asked the Council for a surveyor's report ? the Council disclosed copies of statutory notices relating to the address, but no surveyor's report.  Dissatisfied, the applicants appealed to us, and during the investigation the Council explained it did not actually hold a surveyor's report ? in practice, the surveyor makes written notes while at the survey and incorporates these into the statutory notice back at the office.  However, the Council had not explained this to the applicants, nor had they notified them that they did not hold the surveyor's report.

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