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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 13 to 24 August 2018

This week we have some really sound, practical learning points for authorities and requesters alike. 

It's important that authorities don't rely on assumptions about what a requester wants, while requesters can help prevent these problems by following our tips for making requests.

On exemptions, there's a reminder to ensure any reasons used to withhold information are current at the time of the response, and a learning point on the FOI exemption for future publication.

 

Learning points:

  • Authorities shouldn't make assumptions about what a requester wants
    If an authority doesn't readily understand the terminology used by a requester, it should seek clarification. In Decision 124/2018, the authority made its own assumptions, so failed to look for what the requester had actually asked for. We also publish tips for requesters about how to frame your FOI requests.
  • To rely on the "future publication" exemption, there must be a pre-existing intention to publish
    There's an FOI exemption for information intended for future publication. However, authorities must be able to demonstrate that they held the information with a view to publication when the request was received. It's not enough for authorities to decide to publish when they get the request, which appeared to be the case in Decision 125/2018.
  • Does the exemption still apply?
    When responding to a request for information, authorities should take care to ensure that their reasons for withholding information are current. The reasons may have applied to the information at some time in the past, but do they still apply? This was an issue we commented on in Decision 126/2018.

 

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 116/2018 Mr L and the Scottish Prison Service (the SPS)
    The SPS was asked for a breakdown of expenses claimed by prison governors over the last three years, including the name of claimant, the amount, the reason for the expense and the date it was incurred. We accepted that the cost of complying with the request would exceed the £600 limit and that the SPS was therefore not obliged to comply.
  • Decision 120/2018 Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland and the Scottish Ministers (the Ministers)
    The Ministers were asked for all correspondence, emails and other communications with any other party concerning two Scadabay inspections or "the 2016 Scadabay escape".

    We found that the Ministers failed to respond to the information request and the request for review within the required timescales. The Ministers were ordered to comply with the request for review.
  • Decision 121/2018 Mr D and the Scottish Police Authority (the SPA)
    Mr D asked the SPA for information about police appeals tribunals under new rules. We found that the SPA failed to comply with the FOI Act's timescales for responding to the request and request for review. We also found that the SPA failed to provide appropriate information about the requester's rights of appeal.
  • Decision 122/2018 Mr E and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland (Police Scotland)
    Police Scotland were asked about the co-operation they had provided to the makers and producers of a television programme. We found that Police Scotland failed to respond to the request and request for review within the FOI timescales, and ordered Police Scotland to comply with the request for review.
  • Decision 123/2018 Company A and Moray Council
    Company A asked about the Council's "Brief for preparation of transport strategy for Elgin 2017-2030". The Council provided some information, but withheld certain cost estimates. We found that the Council had responded to the request for information properly, because the information was excepted from disclosure as commercially sensitive under the Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs)
  • Decision 124/2018 Company A and Moray Council
    The Council was asked about the Elgin Transport Strategy and an associated technical report. The Council withheld some information as commercially sensitive, provided a weblink to where other information could be found and stated that it held no further information. Following a review, the Council disclosed some background data, and withheld other information on the basis that it was commercially sensitive.

    We found that the Council had partially failed to respond to the request in accordance with the EIRs. This was because the Council had failed to disclose some information until after our investigation had begun and did not respond fully to two parts of the request. We required the Council to issue a revised review outcome in relation to these parts the request.

    We also found that the Council had correctly withheld other information on the basis that it was commercially sensitive.
  • Decision 125/2018 Mr W and the Scottish Ministers (the Ministers)
    The Ministers were asked for information on the cost of the creation and maintenance of the website https://www.budget.scot/.

    The Ministers withheld the information, claiming they intended to publish it within 12 weeks of the date of the request. We were not satisfied that the Ministers had actually intended to publish the information at the time of the request and found that the Ministers were incorrect to withhold the information: however, as it had been disclosed during our investigation, no action was required.
  • Decision 126/2018 Mr N and the Scottish Ministers (the Ministers)
    Mr N asked the Ministers about the Scottish Funding Council's statutory governance review of Glasgow Clyde College. The Ministers supplied some information, but withheld other information. We were satisfied that the Ministers had identified and located all the relevant information they held. We found that information which was legal advice was exempt from disclosure, but found that other information had been wrongly withheld under this exemption. This was disclosed by the Ministers during our investigation.
  • Decision 127/2018 Councillor George Freeman and Scottish Water
    Scottish Water was asked for information about water and sewerage at Faslane Camp. We found that Scottish Water failed to respond to the request and request for review within the required timescales.

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