Decisions Round-up: 23 to 27 June 2014

 We published 11 decisions during the week - below you'll find the key learning points, along with summaries and links to each decision.

Key messages:

  • Ensure you respond to requests on time
    We've once again had a number of cases where the authority did not respond on time. We considered a particular aspect of the need to respond on time in a case the authority believed was vexatious and repeated: there are specific procedures for handling such cases, but we found they hadn't been followed in Decision 130/2014.


  • The authority may not hold the information you expect it to
    It may be perfectly reasonable for you to believe a public authority should hold the information you're looking for, but we can only consider what information the authority actually does hold. This arose in Decisions 131/2014, 132/2014, 135/2014 and 139/2014.


  • Be careful in checking that you've looked for and found all the relevant information
    Ensure thatyou consider each request carefully, reach a reasonable conclusion on what the requester is looking for and then carry out adequate searches for it. If there's any doubt as to which version of the information is relevant, check with the requester. In Decisions 132/2014, 136/2014 and 137/2014, the authorities failed to address these requirements as fully as they should have done.


  • It's now possible to use "neither confirm nor deny" provisions for personal data
    Last year's FOI Amendment Act introduced a new provision allowing authorities to "neither confirm nor deny" whether they hold personal information in some circumstances. To use this provision, authorities must be able to withhold personal data under section 38(1)(b) of the FOI Act , and must be able to demonstrate that it's in the public interest to neither confirm nor deny whether it is held. In Decision 138/2014, we accepted arguments of this kind for the first time.


  • We can only consider events at a particular time
    In considering appeals, we have to consider events at the time the authority carried out its review. It's possible that the authority may have been right to withhold the information at that time, even if it supplied it to you later - see Decision 139/2014.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 129/2014 Mr Peter Bevington and the Scottish Ministers
    This decision found that the Scottish Ministers failed to respond to Mr Bevington's information request and request for review within the required periods of 20 working days.


  • Decision 130/2014 Mr Christopher Quinn and the Assessor for Lanarkshire Valuation Joint Board
    Another decision about failure to respond within timescales, but also considering the circumstances in which the authority can decide not to respond because it considers the request vexatious or repeated.


  • Decision 131/2014 Ms Kay Smith and City of Edinburgh Council
    Ms Smith asked for information about a budget surplus. We accepted that the Council didn't hold this information.


  • Decision 132/2014 Mr James Taylor and City of Edinburgh Council
    Mr Taylor was seeking information about taxi licensing arrangements. We found that the Council was entitled to withhold information which was subject to legal professional privilege. We also found that the Council should have released another item earlier - Mr Taylor was given it during the investigation, but there was no explanation for it not being provided in response to his request.


  • Decision 133/2014 Dr Linda Dunbar and Scottish Borders Council
    Another decision finding that the authority failed to respond to the information request and request for review within the required 20 working days.


  • Decision 134/2014 Mrs Alison Bourne and City of Edinburgh Council
    The Council failed to respond to Ms Bourne's request for review within 20 working days.


  • Decision 135/2014 Ms Carol Joynes and City of Edinburgh Council
    This request was about chemical treatment to a property. We were satisfied that the Council didn't hold this information.


  • Decision 136/2014 Mr Gavin Doig and Glasgow City Council
    Here, Mr Doig had asked for information about a planning application. We found that this information had been published by the Council already, although it was subsequently withdrawn from its website. The fact that it had previously been published meant it couldn't be withheld as an internal communication (see the guidance on the Aarhus Convention).


  • Decision 137/2014 Mr T and the Scottish Prison Service
    Mr T asked for information about record retention in relation to prisoners' property cards. The Scottish Prison Service found information during the investigation and supplied it to Mr T: we found that this should have been found and supplied in response to his request.


  • Decision 138/2014 Mr Scott Pattinson and Aberdeen City Council
    This is the first decision in which we've found (under the FOI Act - we have upheld a similar provision relating to environmental information) that a public authority was entitled to refuse to confirm or deny the existence of personal data.


  • Decision 139/2014 Mr John Carson and City of Edinburgh Council
    Mr Carson asked for information about the Edinburgh tram project. We accepted that the Council was entitled to withhold this when responding to Mr Carson's information request and request for review, although it was released later. We also found that the information covered by the request was not exactly what Mr Carson understood it to be.

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