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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 03 to 14 December 2018

This week, we learn about an authority not disclosing information on the assumption that it was obtainable elsewhere, but not checking. We also hear about the unacceptable case of a requester having to wait almost a year for some information because of poor searches being carried out at the beginning. We also take a look at November's resolved cases where, in all seven, requesters withdrew their appeals.

Learning points:

 

  • Information 'otherwise accessible' - make sure it's actually there
    The exemption in section 25 of the FOI Act allows an authority to refuse to provide information which is reasonably obtainable elsewhere - for example, in a public register. However, it's important to be sure the information is actually in the place it's supposed to be at the time of asking. In Decision 196/2018, we found the authority hadn't checked (the information wasn't, in fact, available in the relevant register at the time), so we disagreed with the use of the exemption.

  • Searches must be thorough from the outset
    If requesters are to benefit fully from their access to information rights, it's important that authorities carry out thorough searches for the information requested, at the earliest opportunity. In Decision 200/2018, adequate searches weren't carried out until the case reached our office. This resulted in the requester receiving some information nearly a year after he might have done.

Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 194/2018 Mr B and Glasgow City Council
    A request was made for the handwritten notes for the planning/implementation of the Workforce Pay and Benefit Review from October 2005 to November 2006. We found that the Council failed to respond to the request for review within the FOI timescales and ordered the Council to respond.

 

  • Decision 195/2018 Mr H and Glasgow City Council
    The Council was asked about the National Accommodation Strategy for Sex Offenders, in particular about a specific Significant Case Review and the Council's Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements report 2013/2014. The Council advised that it did not hold the information requested, which, the Commissioner accepted.

 

  • Decision 196/2018 Mr M and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland (Police Scotland)
    Police Scotland was asked for details of the sale of their former Garelochhead Police Office. They stated that the information was exempt from disclosure under the FOI Act as it could be obtained from the Registers of Scotland (RoS). We decided the information wasn't reasonably obtainable from RoS, and therefore wasn't exempt, at the time of asking: Police Scotland should have verified this before responding.

 

  • Decision 197/2018 Mr B and Aberdeenshire Council
    Mr B asked for the names of councillors known to be in council tax arrears during a specific period. He also asked for the length of time each councillor had been in arrears and total value of the arrears. The Council supplied the names of two councillors in arrears (and other information), but refused to disclose the duration and value of the arrears, arguing disclosure would breach data protection law. We accepted this.

 

  • Decision 199/2018 Mr T and Glasgow City Council
    The Council was asked for information about environmental services. We found that the Council failed to respond to the requests within the 20 working day timescale.

 

  • Decision 200/2018 Mr S and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr S asked the Ministers for details of Whistleblowing Champions for Health Boards in Scotland, along with other information on whistleblowing arrangements. The Ministers told Mr S they did not hold some of the information, and withheld other information on the ground that it related to policy which was still in the course of development. The Commissioner accepted the Ministers didn't hold some of the information, but found that other information, disclosed during the investigation, should have been released much earlier. The decision acknowledges the Commissioner's ongoing intervention in relation to the Ministers' FOI practice.

 

Resolved cases

 

The FOI Act allows us to try to resolve cases informally. This often involves us giving advice to requesters to let them decide whether to continue with the appeal or, in the case of public authorities, to decide whether to disclose information they had previously withheld.

We closed seven cases without a decision notice in November. In each case, the requester withdrew their appeal.

  • In two cases where the complaint was that the authority hadn't responded to the request, the requester received a response during the investigation and was content to withdraw.

 

  • In two cases, the authority recognised errors in its review outcome and issued a revised one. The cases closed once the requesters had received the new responses.

 

  • The requester withdrew in one case after we suggested to him that a revised request would be more likely to meet his needs.

 

  • In one case, the public authority offered to supply information to the requester personally, not under the FOI Act, as the nature of the information meant that it was unlikely to be appropriate for FOI disclosure into the public domain. The requester agreed to this and withdrew.

 

  • Sometimes, a requester may have unrealistic expectations as to the scope for anonymising personal information. We flagged this up to the requester in one case and the appeal was withdrawn.

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