Decisions Round-up: 7 to 11 October 2013

 We published four decisions this week


Key messages:

  • Ensure arguments for withholding information relate specifically to the information that has been requested
  • The starting point when considering a request for information is to fully understand the scope of what is being requested. Once it has been established that the information is held, but that some or all of the information should be withheld, be sure to apply the correct exemption. In Decision 217/2013, the authority withheld information because it was to be published in the future. In the event only an executive summary rather than the full report was published and so section 27 of the Act did not apply. Following the investigation, we agreed that some of the information was exempt under a different exemption.
  • Take care when interpreting requests
  • Requests should not be interpreted narrowly. In Decision 219/2013, the authority's overly narrow interpretation of the request led to unnecessary confusion.
  • While authorities do not have to give reasons for failing to respond, it may be helpful to do so
  • In Decision 215/2013, the applicant was unhappy that the authority had not explained why it failed to respond to the initial information request. While there is nothing in FOI law to require the authority to do this, good customer care suggests that it may be helpful to do explain why timescales have been missed.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 215/2013 - Mr Nigel Dale and Aberdeen City Council
  • Mr Dale requested a copy of the Council's policy and procedures about social workers and employers in two specific areas of activity and also asked for the number of complaints the Council had received about social workers. Following investigation, we concluded that the Council had dealt with Mr Dale's requests appropriately, but found that it had failed to respond to his request within 20 working days.
  • Decision 216/2013 - Alan Duthie and University of Aberdeen
  • A technical decision, which found that the University had not responded to Mr Duthie's information request and request for review within the statutory 20 working days.
  • Decision 217/2013 - Howling Events and VisitScotland
  • VisitScotland refused to disclose a report to Howling Events because the recommendations from the report were to be published at a future date (section 27(1) of the Act). During the investigation, it became clear that VisitScotland only intended to publish an executive summary of the report and not the full thing. This meant that section 27(1) could not apply. During the investigation, some information was provided to Howling Events. We found that the remainder of the information had been correctly withheld as disclosure would be likely to cause substantial prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs. However, we also found that VisitScotland had failed to respond to the request within 20 working days.
  • Decision 219/2013 - Ms Catherine Stihler MEP and the Scottish Ministers
  • This decision looks at Ms Stihler's request for legal advice on the status of Scotland within the EU should Scotland choose to break away from the United Kingdom. We found that the Ministers were entitled to withhold legal advice on the basis that it was privileged and that the public interest arguments for disclosure did not outweigh this at the time Ms Stihler made her request for review. The decision also commented on the Minister's handling of the request, particularly noting that an overly narrow interpretation of the request led to unnecessary and avoidable confusion and speculation.


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