Merseytravel and the LCRCA again refuse to show how your money is spent and claim it is vexatious to even ask!

Merseytravel and the LCRCA again refuse to show how your money is spent and claim it is vexatious to even ask!

Merseytravel and the LCRCA again refuse to show how your money is spent and claim it is vexatious to even ask!

                                           

Cllr Steve Foulkes (Lead Member for Finance and Organisational Development) front (right) answering a question at a public meeting of the Transport Committee (Liverpool City Region Combined Authority) 9th August 2018
Cllr Steve Foulkes (Lead Member for Finance and Organisational Development) front (right) answering a question at a public meeting of the Transport Committee (Liverpool City Region Combined Authority) 9th August 2018

The ongoing saga of trying to persuade Merseytravel and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority to release details of a small number of invoices has now entered a new phase.

Last year I asked to inspect these invoices during the 30 day inspection period and was told this was unreasonable. I was asked to submit a FOI/EIR request (which I did). Now having submitted a FOI/EIR I am told Merseytravel estimate it would take 11 hours (within the 18.5 hour FOI cost limit). Merseytravel estimate that the activities of consulting and redacting (which don’t count towards the 18.5 hour limit) would take an estimated further roughly 24 hours that Merseytravel wish to class the request as vexatious instead.

Merseytravel acknowledge that part of the request could be an EIR request (which has no time limits) but have decided to base their estimates of time without excluding the EIR elements of it.
Continue reading “Merseytravel and the LCRCA again refuse to show how your money is spent and claim it is vexatious to even ask!”

£761.50 of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s costs application in Saughall Massie Fire Station information request case rejected by First-tier Tribunal

£761.50 of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s costs application rejected in Saughall Massie fire station information request case by First-tier Tribunal

£761.50 of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s costs application rejected in Saughall Massie Fire Station information request case by First-tier Tribunal

Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool, L2 2BX (the venue for First-Tier Tribunal case EA/2016/0033)
Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool, L2 2BX (the venue for First-Tier Tribunal case EA/2016/0033)

Well, I finally got the costs decision from the First-tier Tribunal today in which I was the Appellant.

This continues from an earlier blog post about the hearing which ended with the Tribunal, MFRA, ICO and myself agreeing that I should receive the information.

Merseyside’s Fire and Rescue Authority’s costs application of £1,212 has been rejected by the Tribunal. Although the decision also refers confusingly to a total amount of their costs application of £1192.23.

Two out of the three Tribunal Members (although it doesn’t specify which two) don’t think I acted unreasonably in the period 4th August 2016 to 22nd August 2016. This means £224.66 of MFRA’s costs application is rejected by a majority decision of the Tribunal of 2:1.

Of the remaining £967.57, a further £467.57 is rejected.

This leaves £500.

Basically the argument about the £500 is this.

In late August 2016 following a request from the Tribunal, I stated to MFRA that if they were to provide me with the 4 A4 pages requested, I would be happy for the case to be ended by consent order.

MFRA chose not to end the case this way (although I did receive the 4 A4 pages from ICO on the 14th October 2016). I was sent an altered version of the 4 pages from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority about 48 hours before the hearing.

Therefore because MFRA had legal costs from 22nd August 2016 to 23rd September 2016 this is what the application is about.

However in the decision the Panel admit that they agreed to MFRA’s costs application at the hearing before they had actually read the bundle for the hearing.

Indeed the fact they hadn’t read the bundle for the hearing before making decisions on costs is recorded in the reasons for the decision itself. Is it reasonable to expect the judiciary to read the papers before reaching a decision?

In fact the wording of the decision implies the panel members were put to great inconvenience by having to read the bundle and travel to the hearing itself!

There are legal arguments I could make as to why this £500 costs award shouldn’t have been made in the first place, but I will not reveal those until the matter is settled.

I feel pretty confident that the £500 will be overturned on appeal and I intend to appeal it within the time limit for doing so. Certainly the majority (£761.50) of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s costs application has already been rejected.

I notice that somebody has put the wrong case number on the decision which shows the Tribunal’s ongoing flair for accuracy!

In my view there are errors of fact in the decision, but I have to bear in mind this costs application from an organisation that stated it wished to have the legal power to charge people for making FOI and EIR requests.

It’s managed to achieve that now with a costs order for £500, although estimates of the legal costs for First-tier Tribunal cases are usually at around £10,000 for the public body involved.

The bit in the decision about a decision being made on the papers, I don’t remember being made at the hearing (although I will check my notes). In my view a hearing might have avoided some of the misunderstandings that have obviously arisen.

I’ve asked the Tribunal to reissue the costs decision with the correct case number (EA⁄2016⁄0054 rather than EA⁄2016⁄0117).

Does anyone wish me to include a copy of the decision in this blog post?

Tomorrow evening Wirral Council’s Planning Committee will be making a decision on the Saughall Massie fire station planning application.

There are matters that came out during the Tribunal which I will publish on this blog that as they relate to the expenditure of a total of £8.4 million of public money I’m staggered that the Tribunal would write in its decision, that the First-tier Tribunal case “has involved costs to the public quite disproportionate to its significance or the matters in issue.”

Clearly the significance of the issue (in my eyes) is that MFRA told untruths to the public during its consultation to get the answers it wanted and refused to tell the public it had put aside £300,000 to pay Wirral Council for the land at first Greasby, then Saughall Massie.

Those untruths in the consultation have now formed part of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s planning application.

Indeed there are some that would argue that the invoices for £153,250.61 of work before planning permission is obtained have involved costs to the public too!

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What was the First-tier Tribunal decision (EA/2016/0033) on whether Wirral Council should have withheld some of the minutes of the Headteachers’ and Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee meeting held on the 29th March 2013 in response to a Freedom of Information request?

What was the First-tier Tribunal decision (EA/2016/0033) on whether Wirral Council should have withheld some of the minutes of the Headteachers’ and Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee meeting held on the 29th March 2013 in response to a Freedom of Information request?

What was the First-tier Tribunal decision (EA/2016/0033) on whether Wirral Council should have withheld some of the minutes of the Headteachers’ and Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee meeting held on the 29th March 2013 in response to a Freedom of Information request?

                            

Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool, L2 2BX (the venue for First-Tier Tribunal case EA#47;2016#47;0033)
Tribunal Room 5, 3rd Floor, Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool, L2 2BX (the venue for First-Tier Tribunal case EA⁄2016⁄0033 held as a whole day hearing on the 23rd June 2016)

I will start by making a declaration of interest as I was the Appellant in this case heard in June 2016 over in Liverpool.

I finally received a copy of the First-tier Tribunal’s decision in the case involving Wirral Council (EA/2016/0033).

Part of it is dated the 14th July 2016, but for some reason it’s taken nearly two months to send out (presumably because of the summer holidays).

I’ve linked from the decision to the original ICO decision notice FS50596346 published on ICO’s website as it makes more sense in reading both the decision in the First-tier Tribunal case and the ICO decision notice that it’s an appeal from at the same time. I’ve also linked to the edited version of the minutes released by Wirral Council around 3 years after the FOI request was first made (these minutes have been previously published on this blog).

I’ve included in this version the extra line, “On the subject of Acre Lane, David Armstrong is leading an assets review, which includes identifying a new location for the services currently provided at Acre Lane.” which was disclosed during the hearing itself and was part of the redacted part of the minutes.

At the time of writing this decision is not yet published on the First-tier Tribunal’s website but should be in the near future. There may be some minor formatting changes between the version below and the printed version (due to the differences between HTML and the printed page) although the text remains the same.

Missing from the version below is the Royal Coat of Arms on the first page (which I don’t have permission to reproduce).

The below decision (and reasons for it) were received from the First-tier Tribunal by email as I was an Appellant in the case. The other parties were the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) (First Respondent) and Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council (2nd Respondent).


ON APPEAL FROM:
The Information Commissioner’s Decision Notice No:
FS50596346

Dated: 25th. January, 2016

Appeal No. EA/2016/0033

Appellant:                 John Michael Brace (“JMB”)
First Respondent:     The Information Commissioner (“the ICO”)
Second Respondent: Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council (“WMBC”)

Before

David Farrer Q.C.

Judge

and

Michael Hake
and
Malcolm Clarke

Tribunal Members

Date of Decision: 7th. Sept, 2016

The appellant appeared in person
The ICO did not attend but made written submissions
Robin Hopkins appeared on behalf of WMBC

Subject matter:

FOIA S. 36(1)(b) and 36(2)(b)(i) and (ii)

Whether the public interest in withholding the requested information outweighed the public interest in its disclosure.

DECISION OF THE FIRST-TIER TRIBUNAL

All parties having agreed that the exemption is engaged, the Tribunal finds that the public interest in withholding such of the requested information as remained in dispute at the hearing outweighs the public interest in its disclosure.

The appeal is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 14th. day of July, 2016
David Farrer Q.C.
Judge [Signed on original]

Relevant Statutory Provisions

FOIA  S.36(1) This section applies to –
 
 
. . . . . .
 
(b) information which is held by (a local authority)
 
 
(2) Information to which this section applies is exempt information if, in the reasonable opinion of a qualified person, disclosure of the information under this Act –
 
. . . . . .
 
(b) Would, or would be likely to, inhibit
 
(i) the free and frank provision of advice, or
(ii) the free and frank exchange of views for the purpose of deliberation . . . . .
 

Abbreviations

In addition to those indicated above, the following abbreviations are used in this ruling –

The DN           The Decision Notice of the ICO.

The EIR          The Environmental Information Regulations 2004

The JCC          The Headteachers and Teachers Joint Consultative Committee.

REASONS FOR DECISION

The Background

  1. WMBC is a Metropolitan Borough Council responsible for the education provided by a large number of primary and secondary schools. Like many other local authorities, it is permanently involved in inevitably controversial debates and decisions on educational issues, which arouse the concerns of elected members, teachers and head teachers, parents and the wider general public.
  2. Elected members exercise the extensive powers conferred on public authorities such as WMBC in the field of local education. Public consultation with the different interest groups identified in §1 is, however, essential to the successful functioning of any education authority. For that purpose, WMBC holds a Schools Forum at which the views of all those groups can be aired publicly. It also convenes, once per school term, the JCC, at which elected members discuss with representatives of head teachers’ and teachers’, trades unions matters of current concern. WMBC officers attend. The JCC sits in private and its minutes are circulated only to JCC members.
  3. The request

  4. JMB is a local resident and elector with a keen interest in the governance and the efficient running of WMBC which he pursues using the Hash tag “Scarlet Pimpernel”. On 29th. March, 2013 he issued a request to WMBC for the minutes of previous meetings of twenty – six panels and committees, including “15. Headteachers and Teachers JCC”. It was refused, first by reference to FOIA s.12 (cost of compliance exceeding appropriate limit) and later s.14 (vexatious requests), varied to EIR 12(4)(b).
  5. The ICO’s decision, dated 8th. September, 2014, so far as material to this appeal, was that these exemptions or exceptions could not be relied on and that WMBC must either provide the requested information or issue a response which did not rely on the rejected grounds for refusal.
  6. As regards items 15, 18, 19 and 26, WMBC again refused in a response dated 3rd. September, 2015, citing, as to 15, 18 and 19, the exemption enacted in s.36(2)(b)(i) and (ii). The qualified person whose opinion was obtained was Mr. Surjit Tour, WMBC’s principal legal officer and Monitoring Officer, who was consulted as to 15, 18 and 19 on a number of occasions during August and September, 2014 and whose opinion is dated 31st. October, 2014. The details of that process are immaterial, since JMB now accepts that s.36(2)(b) is engaged.
  7. Section 36 provides a qualified exemption, so that, where it is engaged, the question to be determined is whether the public interest in withholding the information is shown to be greater than the public interest in disclosure.
  8. The DN

  9. Item 26 was disclosed during the ICO’s investigation. He ordered disclosure of items 18 and 19. Disagreements as to the redaction of names on those documents were very sensibly resolved before the hearing of this appeal. As to item 15, the minutes of a JCC meeting on 13th. February, 2013, the ICO upheld WMBC’s reliance on s.36(2)(b) and ruled that the public interest favoured maintaining that exemption. JMB appealed to the Tribunal.
  10. The Appeal

  11. Whilst WMBC’s assessment of these requests may have been initially flawed, Mr. Tour conducted a review of the public interest resulting in disclosure to JMB, on 19th. May, 2016, of an edited version of the relevant JCC minutes of the meeting on 28th. February, 2013, which was just a month before the request. Those minutes were still in draft form at the date of the request. There was no evidence that their final substance differed from the draft in any material respect. Such disclosure was made without prejudice to the contention that a correct view of the balance of public interests had been taken. Disclosure went further at the hearing when the subject matter of the excised portions of the minutes was revealed.
  12. The welcome result of these developments is that the scope of this appeal was greatly narrowed. The Tribunal is concerned with the public interest in withholding or disclosing identified passages from a single set of minutes, whilst having regard to the broader issue whether there are general arguments of principle for either course.
  13. The evidence

  14. Mr. Tour and Mr. Andrew Roberts, a senior financial officer and representative of the Children and Young Persons Department on the JCC gave evidence on behalf of WMBC.
  15. Mr. Tour stated that WMBC’s principal concern was the inhibition of full and frank discussion in the JCC (s.36(2)(b)(ii)). The topics discussed were generally major contentious strategic educational issues on which members of the JCC, approaching them from very different positions, held strong diverging views. It was essential that all concerned, whether elected members or union representatives, should be assured of confidentiality. They participated with that expectation. The principal function of the JCC was to inform WMBC of current concerns among teachers and within their unions. It valued the blunt candour of many contributions, which was not replicated in the Schools Forum, where all participants knew that their words would or might be reported. The disputed extracts from the minutes in question contained robust and candid expressions of opinion, which might not emerge from a meeting known to be on the public record. Council members also expressed vigorous political opinions in the JCC.
  16. As to the modification of WMBC’s position on the minutes, Mr. Tour explained that, a further detailed examination of the minutes, over a period of time, enabled him to take a more liberal view of the public interest in withholding material. The passage of eighteen months was also a factor. However, the withheld passages contained emphatic expressions of opinion which deserved the maintenance of confidentiality.
  17. Mr. Roberts spoke from regular experience of JCC meetings. There was a shared understanding of confidentiality. The main input was generally from trades union representatives. He confirmed the circulation of the minutes, which did not go to Cabinet. He could not say whether they were circulated within the unions. He stated that they were not marked “confidential”.
  18. The topics in recent years have included such controversial issues as the Academy programme, teacher retention, funding of schools and teachers’ pay.
  19. JMB’s case

  20. The public interest in disclosure was plain. The promotion of high standards in maintained schools and decisions as to their conversion into academies were issues of fundamental importance to the community. Transparency was always a vital interest in the conduct of public affairs but nowhere more so than in education, one of the key functions of a local authority.
  21. Any representative of a teaching union should be accountable to his/her members for opinions expressed or demands made at the JCC, the meeting place for teachers and local administrators of education. Likewise, council members should be answerable to their constituents for what they said in this kind of forum. There was no justification for off – the – record exchanges on critical issues between teachers’ representatives and elected members or senior management paid by WMBC.
  22. The absence of any confidentiality marking on the minutes was significant.
  23. Other local authorities, said JMB, published such exchanges, which were evidence of good industrial relations.
  24. The public interest in confidentiality for these meetings was correspondingly slight or non – existent. If union members or councillors were really concerned at the prospect of disclosure of their contributions at the JCC, it was odd that no attempt had been made to adduce direct evidence from them. If there was, indeed, an expectation of confidentiality, it was unjustified and should be removed.
  25. There was no sound reason for members of the JCC to flinch from candour if they knew their words might be recorded in a published document.
  26. The case for WMBC

  27. Confidentiality is essential if the JCC is to function properly. Its value lies in the outspoken expression of views on important and sensitive topics, whether by teachers/ representatives or by elected members. The feedback to local and national government as to teachers’ concerns and sentiment, on an unattributable basis, is of considerable importance.
  28. The requested information may grow less sensitive with the passage of time – witness the revision of WMBC’s position on disclosure. The timing of this request was significant, however. It was made immediately after the relevant meeting and before the requested minutes had even been approved. The “safe space” argument is compelling in this case.
  29. The Reasons for our decision

  30. As indicated above, the sole issue for determination by the Tribunal is the balance of public interests, applying the test cited in §6 as related to this appeal in §9.
  31. It is accepted that the exemption provided by s.36(2)(b) is engaged. Having regard to all the evidence, we conclude that its engagement is dependent on (ii), we conclude that its engagement is dependent on      “the inhibition of the free and frank exchange of views for the purpose of deliberation”
       because, as indicated in §27, we do not think that the JCC is an advisory body.
  32. The public has an obvious interest in knowing how decisions are reached or what advice is given on matters affecting every stage of education, whatever the age of the student. An important issue in this appeal is, therefore, the purpose of the JCC.
  33. It is not a forum for general public debate on educational issues. That function is performed by the aptly named Schools Forum, where the expression of opinions receives appropriate publicity. We were told and we accept that contributions from teachers and councillors tend to be more cautious than in the JCC.
  34. More importantly, the JCC is not an advisory still less a decision – making body. Its function is to permit blunt and fearless exchanges of view, often controversial and sometimes unpredictable. Such exchanges may enable council officers present to warn Cabinet, or possibly the Department of Education, of tensions and strong feelings on important questions such as the role of Academies or the morale of the local teaching profession and to do so without reference to the particular contribution of a member of the JCC. To consult is not to seek advice. The WMBC witnesses stressed the importance to a local education authority of this channel of communication. The Tribunal agrees with their assessment.
  35. JMB argued that any expression of opinion by an elected member of an authority should be accessible to the electorate and that a similar principle applies to the relationship between a trades union representative and those whose interests he/she serves. That may be a reasonable proposition where the member or representative is participating in a decision or in the tendering of formal advice or recommendations intended to influence directly a specific decision. We find that different considerations apply to a consultative committee, whose function is to promote a debate without constraints.
  36. The absence of direct evidence from JCC members as to the expectation of confidentiality is a significant but not a decisive omission. We infer from the evidence of Mr. Roberts and Mr. Tour and from our own experience that such an expectation exists. It is a feature of many bodies in which potentially conflicting interests are convened for the purpose of clarifying their differences and identifying any common ground.
  37. The absence of confidentiality markings would be relevant to questions of the public interest if, but only if, it demonstrated that WMBC’s own practice was inconsistent with its claim that there was a strong public interest in the confidentiality of JCC proceedings. We are inclined to view this rather as an administrative oversight than a reflection of the true expectations of JCC members.
  38. The restricted circulation of minutes is consistent with confidentiality. Plainly, WMBC cannot control their disclosure by a member to fellow teachers but that does not indicate that it has no concerns over publicity.
  39. These are considerations which apply to JCC minutes generally and the Tribunal acknowledges that it must have particular regard to the specific information withheld from the set of minutes with which it is concerned.
  40. We have already observed that the request was made at a time when the minutes were still in unapproved draft form. Although WMBC did not appear to attach much weight to this fact, draft minutes are generally more sensitive than the final approved version. However, this is not a decisive factor in our decision.
  41. One redaction relates to the personal data of a WMBC employee. It is accepted that such data are properly withheld for reasons unrelated to s.36(2).
  42. The other redactions involve firm expressions of opinion and closely related responses on academies, advanced skills teachers, and teachers’ pay and two short references to future changes which would require consultation. In the Tribunal’s opinion, adopting the approach already discussed, they are properly withheld. We do not consider that a Closed Annex is required to deal with them further.
  43. Conclusion

  44. In summary, the Tribunal recognizes the particular importance of transparency in the process of policy – making, locally as much as nationally, in such a vital service as education.
  45. However, we do not regard the function of the JCC as a part of that process, save in the very indirect sense already indicated.
  46. On the other hand, we see a real public value in unconstrained consultation designed to get to the core concerns of teachers, parents and elected members. We accept that the price to be paid for such an airing of opinion is confidentiality.
  47. We acknowledge some public interest in disclosure of the discussions of even a consultative committee but judge that they are clearly outweighed by the interest in maintaining the function of such as the JCC. Absent confidentiality, we conclude that the JCC would either disappear or be reduced to a largely worthless role.
  48. This appeal is therefore dismissed.
  49. Our decision is unanimous.

David Farrer Q.C.
Tribunal Judge,
7th September, 2016



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What was the government’s response to the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information report?

What was the government’s response to the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information report?

                                                       

ICO Information Commissioner's Office logo
ICO Information Commissioner’s Office logo

I will start this by declaring some interests in the area of freedom of information. I am the appellant in case EA/2016/0033 (which is a case with the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) involving decision notice FS50596346). A further case involving an appeal to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) involving decision notice FER0592270 was put in the post on Monday, but is yet to be received by the Tribunal. There are also numerous ICO decision notices that have been issued about FOI requests I have made.

Yesterday the government published the final report of the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information and there is a ministerial written statement here about it.

Introducing new fees for FOI requests (above those that can be already charged) has been ruled out partly because this would lead to a reduction in FOI requests from the media and others.

The ministerial statement also refers to updated codes of practice published. Interestingly one of the requirements of this new code of practice will be for public authorities with a hundred or more full-time equivalent employees to publish detailed statistics on how they deal with FOI/EIR requests.

I presume this will be something similar to the quarterly reports issued by central government which give a detailed account of how FOI and EIR requests have been dealt with over that timescale.

As the ministerial statement states “The publication of such data not only provides accountability to the public, but allows the Information Commissioner to identify and target poorly performing public authorities more effectively.”

Certainly once the new code of practice is published, a new requirement on local government bodies to publish this detailed information will provide an insight into how FOI/EIR requests are dealt with.

There is also going to be revised guidance on the application of section 14(1) (vexatious or repeated requests). The ministerial statement states that they expect this only to be used in “rare cases” and that “the ‘vexatious’ designation is not an excuse to save public officials embarrassment from poor decisions or inappropriate spending of taxpayers’ money”.

There is also going to be consideration by the government of whether to include a requirement to publish expenses and benefits in kind received by senior public sector executives. It seems FOI requests have been made for these, but turned down on data protection grounds.

As I’m the Appellant in the Tribunal case EA/2016/0033 (which isn’t classed as “active” yet (as “active” in such cases is defined as from the point when a hearing date is set), I can reveal that the only major development in that case is that Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council has been added as a party to the appeal as second respondent (originally the case was just between myself and the Information Commissioner).

I’m still awaiting the Information Commissioner’s response (due by the 17th March 2016) and Wirral Council’s response is due not more than 21 days after they receive the Information Commissioner’s response.

Once the Information Commissioner responds and Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council responds to the Information Commissioner’s response, I have up to 14 days to respond to their responses.

The Tribunal have asked all parties to notify them of any dates they are not available between 6th June 2016 and 29th July 2016, so I presume a hearing date will be set on some day between those two dates.

I’ve also been sent a copy of the practice note on closed material in information rights cases.

I’m sure there are those that could comment better than me about a practice direction that leads to hearings discussing the secret information while one of the parties to the appeal is excluded (secret hearings) and a guide to keeping information secret from one of the parties to the case.

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Incredible: Why did ICO find Wirral Council twice broke the law by taking too long to reply to 2 requests?

Incredible: Why did ICO find Wirral Council twice broke the law by taking too long to reply to 2 requests?

Incredible: Why did ICO find Wirral Council twice broke the law by taking too long to reply to 2 requests?

                                                                  

ICO Information Commissioner's Office logo
ICO Information Commissioner’s Office logo

A bit like the experience I had recently of waiting ages for a bus in Liverpool recently, only for four buses back to back to turn up, the Information Commissioner’s Office have in the last fortnight issued two decision notices involving FOI requests to Wirral Council.

There is a small delay in decision notices being published on ICO’s website, but the first (FS50576394) involving a request I made that was considered under the Environmental Information Regulations can be viewed here. I previously wrote about Wirral Council’s U-turn about disclosing information in response to this request back in May.

The decision notice states “As the information was disclosed outside the 20 working day timescale the Commissioner has concluded that the Council breached the requirements of regulation 5(2). ”

I made the request on the 26th January 2015. Wirral Council ignored my request, so on the 24th February 2015 I requested an internal review. Wirral Council responded to the internal review on the 23rd March 2015 stating it had the information but was withholding it based on a regulation 12(5)(e) exemption.

For those who don’t know what a regulation 12(5)(e) exemption is it’s:

(5) For the purposes of paragraph (1)(a), a public authority may refuse to disclose information to the extent that its disclosure would adversely affect

(e) the confidentiality of commercial or industrial information where such confidentiality is provided by law to protect a legitimate economic interest;

I appealed this to the Information Commissioner’s Office on the 25th March 2015 and on the 11th May 2015 Wirral Council did a U-turn stating (you can view the exchanges between myself and Wirral Council on the whatdotheyknow website):

“Following your complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Council has decided to reverse its position, having previously relied on the exception contained in Regulation 12 (5) (e) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. I do not consider that releasing the information would now adversely affect the legitimate economic interest of a third party. The address of the property, which you have requested is 13 Thorneycroft Street, Birkenhead. I have copied this response to the Information Commissioner’s Office.”


As mentioned in my opening sentence, I’m also aware of a decision notice involving a Freedom of Information request that’s been issued recently that hasn’t yet been published on ICO’s website.

This decision notice (FS50568736) (which is not about a FOI request I’ve made) relates to the lack of response by Wirral Council to this FOI request made by Paul Cardin here.

This decision notice states:

“2. The Commissioner’s decision is that the Council has breached section 10(1) of FOIA by failing to respond to the request.

3. The Commissioner requires the public authority to take the following steps to ensure compliance with the legislation.

  • The Council should inform the complainant whether the requested information is held. If the information is held it should provide it to the complainant or else issue a refusal notice in accordance with section 17 of FOIA.
4. The public authority must take these steps within 35 calendar days of the date of this Decision Notice. Failure to comply may result in the Commissioner making written certification of this fact to the High Court (or the Court of Session in Scotland) pursuant to section 54 of the Act and may be dealt with as a contempt of court.”

and

“9. On receipt of the complaint the Commissioner contacted the Council to remind it of its duty to respond to requests for information within 20 working days and to ask that it respond to the complainant. Neither the complainant nor the Commissioner received a response.”

as well as

“11. The complainant made his request for information to the Council on 6 May 2014 but has failed to receive a response. The Council has clearly exceeded the 20 working day limit very significantly and therefore the Commissioner has found that the Council breached section 10(1) in its handling of the request.”

Certainly the common theme running through the two decision notices is Wirral Council exceeding the time limits in the legislation on responding to requests.

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