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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 23 April to 4 May 2018

Two areas we regularly see authorities failing in are responding on time and making sure that any exemptions they use apply to all of the information they withhold. It's disappointing to see them featuring again in this week's Round-up, because the impact on the requester is unacceptable. It delays requesters accessing information that they are legally entitled to see, sometimes until our investigation or decision.

Learning points:

 

  • Make sure exemptions apply before withholding information

    This point comes up fairly often, and features in three decisions this week. Before withholding information, authorities should be sure that there are real reasons to do so and that they can justify their decision. Information which is obviously innocuous and uncontentious should (of course) be disclosed (Decision 057/2018).

    In Decisions 056/2018 and 059/2018, the authority disclosed information during our investigation which could have been provided when it first responded to the request. In Decision 056/2018, the authority was able to provide detailed and convincing submissions showing why some of the withheld information (in its risk registers) should be withheld, but did not provide the same level of reasoning for the rest of the withheld information, so we ordered some disclosure.

  • Timescales matter

    Four of the decisions issued in the last two weeks have upheld complaints from requesters who did not receive responses within the statutory timescales. The reasons for these failures vary, but staff throughout an authority should be able to both recognise an information request or a request for review, and know what to do. Our self-assessment toolkit module "Responding on time" may be helpful.


Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 053/2018 David Bateman and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Bateman asked about Ministerial engagements. After investigation, we found that the Ministers failed to reply to Mr Bateman's request and request for a review within the timescales in the FOI Act.

 

  • Decision 054/2018 Colin Malaney and the Scottish Prison Service
    The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) was asked about internal briefings prepared for Government Ministers. We investigated and found that by failing to reply to Mr Malaney's request for a review within the FOI timescales, the SPS had not met its duties under the FOI Act.

 

  • Decision 055/2018 Derek Cooney and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland
    Mr Cooney asked about Police Scotland's refusal to investigate his complaints, but did not get a response. After investigation, we found that Police Scotland had breached the FOI Act by responding to neither the request nor the request for review within the required timescales.

 

  • Decision 056/2018 Mr N and the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC)
    The SCCRC was asked for a copy of a paper ("Applicants with Learning Difficulties") and for its risk registers for the last five years. Initially, the SCCRC refused to disclose any of the information. During our investigation, it disclosed the paper (redacted to remove personal data), but continued to withhold all information in the risk registers.

    We found that parts of the risk registers were not exempt from disclosure and should have been disclosed. We found that the redacted version of the paper should have been provided when the SCCRC first responded to the request.

 

  • Decision 057/2018 Reiner Luyken and Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE)
    Mr Luyken asked about financial assistance for a community windfarm project. HIE disclosed some information but withheld some because the information was confidential and its disclosure would cause real harm to the commercial interests of the company involved

    We agreed that the information was environmental, and that some of it was correctly withheld. We ordered disclosure of the rest as we didn't accept that disclosure would cause the harm anticipated by HIE.

 

  • Decision 059/2018 William Ross and the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR)
    Mr Ross asked for communications with Viewpoint Housing Association between two dates. SHR disclosed a small amount of information. It withheld other information.

    During our investigation, SHR disclosed another email. We found that this information should have been disclosed earlier. We accepted that other information was correctly withheld under the exemptions cited by SHR.

 

  • Decision 061/2018 Laurel Bush and Highland Council
    Mx Bush asked about the meaning of terms used in a gas safety notice.

    After investigation, we found that Highland Council failed to reply to the request and request for review within the FOI timescales.

 

  • Decision 063/2018 Brian Gourlay and West Dunbartonshire Council
    Mr Gourlay asked about advice received by the Council before it sent two letters. The Council replied that it did not hold some information covered by his request, and that the information it held was subject to legal professional privilege and exempt from disclosure.

    Following an investigation, we accepted this.

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