Decisions Round-up: 19 to 23 May 2014

 Six decisions were published this week - here are the learning points.

Key messages:


  • When refusing a request because it's vexatious, make sure you have evidence to back up your claims
    In two of the decisions issued this week (Decision 104/2014 & Decision 105/2014), we found that authorities had not been entitled to refuse to respond to requests on the basis that they were vexatious. In neither case had the authorities done enough to satisfy us that the requests were vexatious.


  • Consider publishing information if you get a number of requests for it
    Both of this week's vexatious cases involved requests on topics about which the requester had previously made requests. If you continually get requests for the same information, think about whether you can publish the information proactively.


  • Sensitive personal data can rarely, if ever, be disclosed under FOI
    Information about a person's health, criminal record, sexuality, etc. is sensitive personal data and has extra protection under the Data Protection Act. Decision 106/2014 dealt with a request for information about the arrest of two filmmakers at the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire. There's a lot of information about the arrests in the public domain already, but this decision highlights just how difficult it is for a public authority to disclose sensitive personal data under FOI without breaching the Data Protection Act. Our briefing on the "personal information" exemption has further guidance.


  • Make sure you put enough postage on correspondence
    In Decision 107/2014, the authority sent a response to the applicant, but didn't put enough postage on the letter. The applicant refused to pay the additional postage charge. Although the authority had attempted to post the letter, it hadn't been posted properly, so we found that the authority had failed to respond.


Decisions issued:

  • Decision 103/2014 Mr Alisdair MacPherson and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr MacPherson asked the Ministers for information about legal advice on Scotland's share of the UK's oil and gas revenue should Scotland become independent. He wanted to know whether advice had been taken and, if so, who from and when. The Ministers confirmed they'd taken legal advice, but refused to disclose either the advice or the other details Mr MacPherson had asked for. Following our investigation, we found that the Ministers had been entitled to refuse to disclose this information.


  • Decision 104/2014 Mr Alan Laing and the Scottish Ministers
    Here, the Ministers refused to respond to Mr Laing's request about a Ministerial trip to India on the basis that it was vexatious. Mr Laing, a parliamentary researcher, had made 12 related requests in the previous year. The Ministers were concerned that responding to this and other requests would, at the time the request was received, have diverted staff from completing core functions. However, we did not consider Mr Laing's request to be vexatious.


  • Decision 105/2014 Mr X and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
    This is another case where the authority refused to answer a request on the basis that it was vexatious. Mr X asked the SPS about the review of an internal policy which he knew, from a response to a previous information request, had been due to take place. The SPS considered that Mr X's request was designed to cause disruption or annoyance, given the information that had already been disclosed to him. We disagreed.


  • Decision 106/2014 Mr Rob Edwards and Police Scotland
    This involved a request about the arrest of two filmmakers at the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire. Our decision found that the information the Police held was exempt from disclosure because it was either information held for the purposes of a criminal investigation (and the public interest favoured withholding the information) or because its disclosure would breach the Data Protection Act.


  • Decision 107/2014 Mr J and Police Scotland
    Mr J asked the Police for information about the BBC documentary series Crime Scenes Scotland. When they responded to Mr J's request for review, the Police did not pay sufficient postage on the letter. Mr J did not pay the balance due, so did not receive the letter. This led to us finding that the Police had not replied to Mr J's request for review.


  • Decision 108/2014 Mr William Stewart and the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC)
    A case where we decided that the SCCRC didn't respond to Mr Stewart's requirement for review within the time set down by the FOI Act. The SCCRC had no record of having received the fax containing his request for review, but Mr Stewart was able to prove that he had sent his fax to the correct number. We were satisfied, on balance of probabilities, that the SCCRC had received the request for review.

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