Information Commissioner Issues Undertaking to Improve Practices

The Information Commissioner has, for the first time, issued an undertaking to secure compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

The Information Commissioner issued the undertaking to the University of East Anglia following the November 2009 disclosure of emails from the University. The emails demonstrated an apparent reluctance to respond to valid requests for information about the University's Climatic Research Unit's involvement in climate research.

The ICO found that the University did have a procedure in place for dealing with information requests in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations. The undertaking was served to ensure the University complies with the Act by reviewing its current practices and training its staff on the Act's requirements.

The Information Commissioner states that "our tougher enforcement strategy makes it clear that public authorities will face similar action if they fall short of their responsibilities to promote openness and transparency."

Government Plans to Extend Freedom of Information Act

The Government has set out proposals to extend the scope of the FOI Act. The Information Commissioner says the current FOI Act gives citizens "a right to shine a torch over the inner workings of hundreds of public authorities to find out how decisions are made." The Commissioner 'welcomes' the Government proposals to extend the coverage of the Act and to develop a more independent IPO.

Decision Notices

Case Ref: FS50298668
Public Authority: Audit Commission

Summary: The complainant requested information about an auditor and his audit of Basildon Council. The Audit Commission disclosed the auditor's contact details but said it did not hold the other information as it was held only by the auditor and not the Commission.

The Commissioner found that the Audit Commission did not hold the information and had therefore complied with s.1(1) of the FOI Act. However, the public authority breached section 10(1) by failing to respond within 20 working days.

Case Ref: FS50296060
Public Authority: Commission for Local Administration in England

Summary: The complainant requested a list of employees of the York office of the Local Government Ombudsman. The public authority refused, relying on section 14(1), that the request was vexatious.

The Commissioner held that the request was vexatious and the public authority had acted correctly.

Case Ref: FER0311833
Public Authority: Department of the Environment (NI)

Summary: The complainant requested minutes from meetings relating to two planning applications. The public authority said that they did not have the information, as no minutes were taken. The complainant asked that the Department conduct an internal review which the Department has not done.

The Commissioner requires the Department to conduct an internal review as it has failed to comply with the requirements of regulations 11(3) and 11(4) of the EIR.

Case Ref: FER0319300
Public Authority: Cheshire East Council (formerly Macclesfield Borough Council)

Summary: The complainant asked to inspect the Local Land Charge Register in person. The Council initially agreed but then applied the exception of regulation 12(4)(b).

The Commissioner held that the Council was correct in applying the exception. However, the Council breached regulation 14(2) by failing to issue a refusal notice within the time limit, regulation 14(3)(a) by not citing the specific exception when refusing the request, regulation 14(3)(b) by not mentioning public interest considerations that were taken into account in applying the exception, and regulation 9(1) by not offering advice in accordance with the Code of Practice.

Case Ref: FS50352266
Public Authority: East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust

Summary: The complainant asked the Trust to provide information on knee arthroscopy procedures carried out between 2004 - 2009 that resulted in complications. The complainant received no substantive response.

The Commissioner held that the public authority has breached section 10(1) of the Act and must provide a response or issue a valid refusal notice.

Case Ref: FS50318306
Public Authority: King's College Cambridge

Summary: The complainant made requests to King’s College Cambridge, on issues relating to King’s College School. The College stated that it did not hold information in its own right, as the School was not part of the College. The College claimed that the School was not required to provide information as it is an independent school and therefore not subject to the Act.

The Commissioner found that, for the purposes of the Act, the School was part of the College and the Act therefore covers information held by the School. The College must therefore comply with its duties under the Act.

Case Ref: FS50319437
Public Authority: Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust

Summary: The complainant requested information on how many children born at the hospital in a ten year period had their DNA samples stored. The Trust advised that they held no central record, but explained their policy and suggested that another public authority may hold the information.

The Commissioner finds that the Trust breached section 1(1)(a) as obtaining the information would not involve the creation of new information. The Trust also made procedural breaches of section 10(1) and 17(5). However, the Commissioner found that the public authority was correct to rely on section 12(1) as the work involved would have exceeded the cost limit. The trust did not breach section 16(1) as it provided all advice and assistance that would reasonably be expected of it.