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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 1 to 12 April 2019

This week's Decisions Round-up features the use of the excessive costs provision. When applying this provision, authorities have to advise requesters how to narrow down their request (and requesters are entitled to ask for this help!). We also look at the need for authorities to explain why they're refusing to disclose information, so that requesters can challenge a refusal effectively.

 

Learning points:

 

  • Excessive costs and the duty to advise and assist
    Public authorities don't have to comply with a request if it's going to cost more than £600 to do so. However, that's not the end of the matter -authorities must also give requesters reasonable advice and assistance to narrow their request so that it comes in under the £600 limit. The failure to do this was addressed in two decisions this week, Decisions 053/2019 and 056/2019.

 

  • Refusal notices must tell the requester why information isn't being disclosed
    If an authority withholds information for any reason, it must tell the requester why: requesters can't challenge a refusal effectively if they don't know why information is being withheld. In Decision 056/2019, the authority initially refused to disclose information on the basis of a number of exemptions under FOISA. Only during the investigation did the authority argue that complying would cost more than £600. This led to us finding a breach of section 16(4) of FOISA.

 

Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 049/2019 Mr L and Stirling Council
    The Council was asked for correspondence about a complaint made by Mr L. The Council withheld legal advice. We agreed the advice was exempt from disclosure.

 

  • Decision 050/2019 Dr W and the University of Edinburgh
    The University was asked for a report regarding the misconduct of a lecturer who had been dismissed. We agreed that most of the information held by the University was personal data and exempt from disclosure. However, we found that some information was not exempt. The University disclosed some of this information during the investigation, but not the details of one of the journal articles which had required retraction. We ordered the University to disclose this.

 

  • Decision 051/2019 Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland and the Scottish Ministers
    The Ministers were asked for information believed to be held by the Fish Health Inspectorate at Marine Scotland in connection with two 2016 Scadabay inspection reports. By the end of the investigation, we were satisfied that the Ministers held no additional information capable of addressing the request.

 

  • Decision 052/2019 Ms Q and NHS Grampian
    Ms Q asked NHS Grampian how many medical appointments took place in a toilet between specified dates. We accepted that NHS Grampian didn't hold any information falling within the scope of the request.

 

  • Decision 053/2019 Mr K and City of Edinburgh Council
    Mr K asked for details of complaints made about both public and private hire taxi drivers over a three year period. The Council argued that extracting the information for the request would cost more than £600, meaning that it was not obliged to comply with the request. We agreed. However, we also found that the Council had failed to advise and assist the requester on how to reduce the scope of the request.

 

  • Decision 054/2019 Mr D and the University of Glasgow
    Mr D asked about a whistle blower's complaint alleging financial irregularities. The University disclosed some information, withheld other information, and - for part of the request - said it held no information. We agreed with the approach taken by the University.

 

  • Decision 055/2019 Mr D and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
    SEPA were asked about a waste exemption. We found that they failed to respond to the request (or request for review) within the timescales set down by the Environmental Information Regulations.

 

  • Decision 056/2019 Mr N and Police Service of Scotland
    Police Scotland were asked for the number of officers deployed during President Trump's visit in July 2018. Police Scotland withheld the information under various exemptions under FOISA. During the investigation, Police Scotland argued that they were not obliged to comply with the request as the cost of doing so would exceed £600. We accepted this, but found that they should have told Mr N this in their initial response. They should also have given him advice and assistance on how to bring his request under the £600 limit.

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