Decisions Round-up: 17 to 28 November 2014

 We published 12 decisions between 17 and 28 November, featuring a number of more complex cases. Learning points include the importance of applying exemptions on a case by case basis and giving sufficient information to establish legitimate interests in third party personal information.   

Key messages:


  • Each case is different, and must be considered separately
    In Decision 234/2014, the requester referred to several previous decisions to support their case. Although it can be helpful to refer to previous decisions, each case is assessed on its own merits, as there may be different circumstances to take into account. 


  • Don't create blanket exemptions where they don't exist
    In Decision 234/2014, the authority suggested that where there could be a legal challenge to the awarding of a contract, information about the contract would always be exempt from disclosure. However, there is no blanket (class) exemption for this type of information, and each case must be considered in its own right, considering the circumstances at the time. 


  • Focused, case-specific arguments are always important
    Authorities, remember to provide us with relevant, focused arguments where you are applying an exemption where you believe that release of the information will cause harm. This helps us understand the specific circumstances of the case. We weren't satisfied this had been done in Decision 234/2014, but found the arguments provided in Decision 235/2014 were more focussed.


  • Disclosure in one case may not mean disclosure in a similar case
    In Decision 237/2014 we looked at whether a significant case review should be disclosed. The requester believed that, as information from other significant case reviews had been published, this report should also be published. We considered all available guidance on publishing information from significant case reviews, and examples of published information. However, in this case, we found that the information could not be disclosed because it was protected by data protection law.


  • Authorities must be able to demonstrate that a request is vexatious
    To argue successfully that a request is vexatious, authorities need to do more than just tell us about the number of requests they've received from a particular individual. We've published guidance on the kinds of factors that are relevant when considering whether a request is vexatious (e.g. significant burden, disruption to the authority).  Authorities need to be able to demonstrate that the requests are having this effect. The authority did this successfully in Decision 238/2014.


  • If an authority suggests discussing your request, it usually helps to take this up
    Even though it may be clear to you, the authority may not readily understand your request. You're not required to explain why you're looking for the information, but discussion can help clarify the request and explain the context, and this can, in turn, help to avoid situations where the authority is entitled to refuse the request as vexatious (see Decision 238/2014).


  • When you're looking for someone else's personal data, you should be able to explain why you need it
    Where the information you're asking the authority for is the personal data of another person, you need to be able to show that you're pursuing what's known as a "legitimate interest". In Decision 240/2014, although we accepted the requester had a legitimate interest in the matters he was researching, there wasn't a close enough link between that interest and the personal data he'd asked for to be able to conclude that the personal data should be disclosed.


  • Disclose what you can
    In Decision 241/2014, the authority decided to withhold all information from a significant case review. Although we agreed that some of the information had correctly been withheld, we found that some could safely be disclosed


  • Information that's already available for a fee may be exempt - it doesn't follow that it will always be exempt
    There is an exemption in the legislation covering information a requester can reasonably obtain other than by making a request for it. The exemption can apply even if the requester has to pay to get the information. However, each case must be considered on its own merits - if the charge is too high, the information might not be "reasonably obtainable." As we found in Decision 243/2014, this may not be the best way of responding to a request for information you already have in a particular document, even if the requester could find it elsewhere.

Decisions issued:


  • Decision 234/2014 Shetland Line (1984) Ltd and Transport Scotland
    Transport Scotland was asked for analysis and assessment information about tenders for the Northern Isles Ferry Services contract. Some of the information requested was withheld. Following our investigation, we accepted that disclosure could harm relations with bidders for forthcoming tenders. We also concluded that such harm would not be in the public interest, considering the relatively small number of potential tenderers and how soon the tendering exercises would be carried out.


  • Decision 235/2014 Harry Scott and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland (Police Scotland)
    Mr Scott asked Police Scotland for the number of officers, by rank, deployed within the Scottish Borders Council area on a number of specified shifts. Police Scotland withheld the information on the basis that disclosure would substantially prejudice the prevention and detection of crime and the apprehension and prosecution of offenders. Following an investigation we accepted this.


  • Decision 236/2014 Elizabeth Manshouri and City of Edinburgh Council
    Ms Manshouri asked the Council for the information it held, covering a specified time period, relating to permission to build on Portobello Park. The Council provided information, with personal details redacted. We accepted that the Council had provided Ms Manshouri with all the information it held relevant to her request.


  • Decision 237/2014 Mrs X and Stirling Council
    Mrs X asked the Council for the significant case review report into the death of her grandchild. The Council provided a redacted, anonymised version, but withheld some information. We accepted that the withheld information was personal data, some of it sensitive, or information from a deceased person's health record and that the Council had been right to withhold it. 


  • Decision 238/2014 Mr X and Highland Health Board (NHS Highland)
    Mr X made a series of five requests to NHS Highland related to staff accommodation. NHS Highland refused to comply with the requests because it considered them to be vexatious. Following an investigation, the Commissioner agreed.


  • Decision 239/2014 Mr N and Perth and Kinross Council
    Mr N asked the Council for information about a School Fund. In an earlier decision, we ordered the Council to conduct additional searches for parts of the request. The Council did this but Mr N remained dissatisfied with the outcome. We concluded that the new searches were adequate.


  • Decision 240/2014 Graeme Baxter and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Baxter asked the Ministers for a list of the names and addresses of those who had made representations to the public local inquiry into the proposed development at the Menie Estate, Aberdeenshire. The Ministers provided details for businesses and organisations, but withheld the details about individuals who had made representations on the basis that disclosure would breach the Data Protection Act. We agreed with the Ministers' reasoning.


  • Decision 241/2014 Iain Maciver and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
    Mr Maciver asked for the significant case review carried out after the death of a "looked-after" child. The Comhairle withheld the whole report. We agreed that some information should be withheld, but ordered disclosure of the report's recommendations.


  • Decision 242/2014 Friends of Loch Etive and Argyll & Bute Council
    On 30 January 2014, the Friends of Loch Etive asked the Council for information about a proposed section 75 planning agreement. The Council told the Friends of Loch Etive that it did not hold the draft agreement, and that the correspondence it held about the agreement was excepted from disclosure under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations. Following an investigation, we accepted this.


  • Decision 243/2014 Paul Quigley and The Assessor for Glasgow City Council
    Mr Quigley asked the Assessor for information used to set the council tax bandings for a housing development. The Assessor gave some information to Mr Quigley, but withheld other information. The Assessor disclosed further information during our investigation, but continued to withhold sale prices on the basis that they were reasonably obtainable by Mr Quigley other than by requesting them under the FOI Act. However, following our investigation, we found that the information was not reasonably obtainable to Mr Quigley and ordered the Assessor to disclose it.


  • Decision 244/2014 Ann Simpson and Glasgow City Council
    Ms Simpson asked the Council for documentation generated by the Council's Audit and Inspection Team about a particular complaint. The Council refused to provide the information, on the basis that disclosure would impact negatively on the effectiveness of its internal audit function and so would substantially prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs. We agreed that the Council had been entitled to refuse to disclose the information.


  • Decision 245/2014 Shetland Line (1984) Ltd and Transport Scotland
    Shetland Line asked Transport Scotland for information about bid proposals and other information about the Northern Isles Ferry Services contract. Transport Scotland failed to respond to Shetland Line's request and requirement for review within the 20 working days allowed for under the Act.

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