Decisions Round-up: 22 to 26 October 2012

We published five decisions this week.


Key messages:

  • Support, don't hinder, the exercise of FOI rights

Do what you can to support requesters trying to access information under FOI.  Interpreting requests in an unreasonable or over-restrictive way, or otherwise failing to support requesters in the exercise of their rights, will lead to criticisms where an appeal is made. (172/2012)

  • When costs are excessive, provide advice on narrowing the request

When the cost of responding exceeds the ?600 limit, you should provide guidance on how the request might be narrowed, wherever possible.  It will not normally be enough simply to ask requesters to narrow their request without providing advice on how this might be done.  Remember also that individual requests cannot be aggregated in determining whether costs would exceed ?600.

  • When making a case for non-disclosure, ensure you explain how the exemption or exception specifically applies

When seeking to withhold information, ensure that you clearly articulate the reasons why non-disclosure is appropriate in the circumstances of your case, rather than in general terms.  In Decision 168/2012, a clearly-explained reasoning helped to support the Council's case.


Summary of decisions:

Mr Strain asked the Council for legal opinions and other information relating to former quarry sites.  The information was withheld under the EIR exceptions that protect confidential information.  We concluded that the exceptions in this case had been applied appropriately.

The Council refused two requests from the company on the grounds of excessive cost.  We found that the Council had incorrectly aggregated the costs of both requests, and that one request could be responded to within the ?600 limit.  In relation to the second, we agreed that responding would exceed this limit, but required the authority to provide further advice and assistance to the company to help it narrow its request.

Mr M made an application to the Commissioner after no response was received to his request for review.  The Council notified the Commissioner that a response to the request for review was issued on the twentieth working day.  Mr M subsequently confirmed that the response was received following his application to the Commissioner.  Given that the review response had been issued on the twentieth day (even though Mr M didn't receive it until later), there had been no breach of the timescale.

This case concerned a request for information about a contract to supply radiotherapy equipment.  While some information was provided, other information was withheld under various exemptions, including section 33(2)(b), which allows information to be withheld where disclosure would harm the financial interests of a UK administration.  This decision is one of only six cases to have considered section 33(2)(b) to date, and the only case to date where the application of this exemption has been upheld.  Click to view all section 33(2)(b) cases considered so far.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) responded to Mr H's request for a copy of its operating standards by informing him that it did not hold relevant information.  It argued that information which had previously been called "operating standards" had been superseded by information titled "standards of assurance".  We found that it should have been clear to the SPS that this was the information sought by Mr H ? particularly as Mr H's request for review made it clear what he was looking for.  We also found that the narrow interpretation of the request was unreasonable, and that the SPS failed to provide appropriate advice and assistance.

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