Feeds

Error time counts towards FOI rejections

Information Tribunal finds fubars favourable

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

An organisation is allowed to count time spent on errors in calculating when it can refuse a Freedom Of Information (FOI) Act request, the Information Tribunal has ruled.

FOI legislation says that public bodies must give people the information they ask for in an official request. They are allowed, though, to refuse the request once it has become too costly based on a formula of man hours used to find the information. Currently, an organisation can refuse a request if it estimates that it will take more than 18 hours to fulfil.

The Information Tribunal has now said that an organisation which uses up those hours based on a misunderstanding of the original request can legitimately count them towards the total used as the basis of a refusal.

The Information Tribunal is the appeals body for rulings by FOI watchdog the Information Commissioner's Office. It ruled in a case brought against the NHS Trust in South Essex by a Mrs B Francis.

Francis had requested information about treatment that her son received in a number of hospitals before his death in 1998. The Trust sent her some, but not all, of the information she asked for. Some it could not find and some it withheld, believing it to be the subject of legal privilege.

The Information Commissioner applied a public interest test to the legally privileged information and said that it was not in the public interest for that privilege to be overruled.

"We accept that Mrs Francis has a great personal interest in information relating to the circumstances in which her son died, but that is not the same as the public interest in those circumstances, which has been largely satisfied," said the original decision on 21 July 2008.

The Tribunal reserved one aspect of the case for further discussion and negotiation. It became clear during last year's hearing that the NHS Trust had misunderstood the meaning of one of Francis's requests for information.

The Trust agreed to go back and search for the relevant information in the light of its new understanding. It did, and disclosed everything that it found, but could not find occasional missing pages.

The Trust explained some administrative reasons why some pages might be missing but said that it did not want to search further because the case had used up more than the amount of time the Trust was required to dedicate to it under law.

The Information Commissioner's Office produced a draft decision notice which said that this was a reasonable position, though Francis objected to that. She said that the time limit should not apply because the Trust had not dealt with the request properly in the first place.

"We can understand Mrs Francis’ frustration that the limit set by section 12 should remove the need for the Trust to make further attempts to locate documents, but that is not a matter for us to take into account," said the Tribunal's new ruling. "The limit was set by Parliament and the Trust are fully entitled to rely on it."

"They have in any case substantially exceeded the limit and as a public body they have other demands on their resources. That they did not initially comprehend the request, and therefore did not address it properly, does not prevent them relying on the limit now," it said.

"The limit in section 12 applies to the request as a whole, not separately to its constituent parts. As a result of the Trust’s further searches, Mrs Francis has received some further documents," it said.

See: The new ruling (4pg/34k pdf) July's ruling (13pg/53kb pdf)

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
The 'fun-nification' of computer education – good idea?
Compulsory code schools, luvvies love it, but what about Maths and Physics?
Doctor Who's Flatline: Cool monsters, yes, but utterly limp subplots
We know what the Doctor does, stop going on about it already
'Cowardly, venomous trolls' threatened with TWO-YEAR sentences for menacing posts
UK government: 'Taking a stand against a baying cyber-mob'
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Don't bother telling people if you lose their data, say Euro bods
You read that right – with the proviso that it's encrypted
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.