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Decisions Round-up: 26 to 30 August 2019

This week we highlight some key advice to help FOI work more effectively for everyone.

 

Learning points:

  • An easy path to better FOI...
    We've seen a lot of cases recently where public authorities have changed their approach to a request only after an appeal has been made to the Commissioner. This was a feature of three of last week's cases, while a whopping five out of seven decisions this week saw the authority change tack on appeal. This includes authorities finding additional information that was covered by the request, or disclosing information which had previously been withheld.

    FOI law acknowledges that authorities may not always get their response right first time. That's why the legislation has a 'safety net' built in: the requirement that authorities review their initial handling of a request before an appeal can be made. If an authority wants to get the best out of FOI - and reduce its impact on resources - it needs to take full advantage of this opportunity. Reviews should never be a 'rubber-stamping' exercise: they should always support a fresh and considered re-examination of the case. Doing so can help resolve things far more swiftly - for authorities and requesters - and can avoid unnecessary appeals to the Commissioner.

    We're currently developing a new public authority toolkit to help authorities assess and improve their own review procedures. In the meantime, our briefings page has lots of guidance and resources to help authorities get their FOI response right first - or second - time.

 

Decisions issued:

  •  Decision 121/2019 Mr N and the Scottish Ministers
    The Ministers were asked for briefings and documents provided to Ministers on the topic of a second independence referendum. We investigated and found that while the Ministers had correctly withheld some information, other information had been wrongly withheld. We also found that some information, only identified during our investigation, should have been located earlier.

  • Decision 123/2019 Mr Kerr and Dumfries and Galloway Health Board (NHS Dumfries and Galloway)
    NHS Dumfries and Galloway was asked whether it held letters containing "threatening language" from a named individual.

    We investigated and found that NHS Dumfries and Galloway's response did not confirm whether the correspondence was from the named individual. As a further response was issued during the investigation, we did not require any action.

  • Decision 124/2019 Mr K and South Ayrshire Council
    The Council was asked for correspondence about property in Symington. We found that the Council had failed to identify all of the information and had incorrectly withheld some information. We also found that it was correct to withhold some personal data.

  • Decision 126/2019 Ms Kerr and West Lothian Council
    The Council was asked about funding for child protection services. The Council replied that this information was on its website. We investigated and did not agree that the information was available on the website.

  • Decision 127/2019 Ms Kerr and West Lothian Council
    The Council was asked various questions about detriment caused to children by social workers and about the recourse available to those children.

    The Council said that it would exceed the £600 cost limit of the FOI Act to supply information for part of the request. We agreed, but found that the Council had failed to provide reasonable advice and assistance. We also found that the Council failed to address another question, but required no action as a response was provided during our investigation.

  • Decision 128/2019 Mrs Y and Scottish Borders Council
    The Council was asked for information relating to the blocking off of a specific sewage pipe. The Council provided some information. We investigated and found that the Council had failed to identify all of the information that it held. More information was provided during our investigation.

  • Decision 129/2019 Community Windpower Ltd and East Ayrshire Council
    The Council was asked for internal correspondence relating to Sneddon Law Community Wind Farm. The Council disclosed some information, but withheld other information under a number of exceptions in the EIRs. We were satisfied that all the information comprised internal communications and that the Council was entitled to withhold.

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