ICO cites Upper Tribunal on “vexatiousness”

The Information Commissioner has issued his first decision notice citing the Upper Tribunal’s judgments on “vexatiousness” since the latter were handed down

On 7 February 2013 the Upper Tribunal handed down judgment in three appeals relating to requests for information which had been refused either under section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, or regulation 12(4)(b) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. These two provisions provide, respectively, that the general obligation on public authorities to disclose information on requests is disapplied if the request is “vexatious” or “manifestly unreasonable”. Until the Upper Tribunal ruled on these cases there had been no authority from a relevant appellate court, and there was considerable variation in how the Information Commissioner and the First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) approached these cases – I recently wrote about this position of uncertainty for PDP’s FOI Journal.

Both Paul Gibbons and Robin Hopkins have written, comprehensively, about the Upper Tribunal’s decisions, and the NADPO Spring Seminar will feature James Cornwell, of 11KBW, talking about the subject, so I merely blog now to observe that the Information Commissioner (IC) has correctly also taken note of them. In upholding a decision to refuse to disclose information, in decision notice FS50459595 (regarding a request to the Chief Constable of Surrey Police) he says

In reaching a conclusion in this case the Commissioner is also assisted by the Upper Tribunal’s comments in the case of Wise v Information Commissioner: “Inherent in the policy behind section 14 (1) is the idea of proportionality. There must be an appropriate relationship between such matters as the information sought, the purpose of the request and thetime and other resources that would be needed to provide it.”

It is interesting to note the IC’s reliance on this passage. What is also interesting (and not to be criticised) given the timing, is that the IC continues to refer to his own guidance (“When can a request be considered vexatious or repeated?”) in determining these sort of cases. The Upper Tribunal, while saying that “there is much to commend in the IC’s Guidance” (¶41 of the Dransfield judgment) did go on to give strong hints that it might need revising

in accordance with the thrust of this decision, it may be that the Guidance needs to place greater weight on the importance of adopting a holistic and broad approach to the determination of whether a request is vexatious or not, emphasising the attributes of manifest unreasonableness, irresponsibility and, especially where there is a previous course of dealings, the lack of proportionality that typically characterise vexatious requests

The fact that the IC honed in on the concept of a proportionality approach in this recent decision notice suggests the revised guidance might be appearing sooner rather than later.

3 Comments

Filed under Environmental Information Regulations, Freedom of Information, Information Commissioner, Information Tribunal, vexatiousness

3 responses to “ICO cites Upper Tribunal on “vexatiousness”

  1. alan m dransfield

    There is no doubt in my mind that Judge Wikeley decision should be reviewed as it is MOST UNSAFE.I refer to GIA/3037/2011 Dransfield v ICO and Devon CC.(DCC)
    Breaking News is the DCC dont even own the Property which this particular decision related,hence, the VEXATIOUS decision MUST be withdrawn

    • Hi Alan

      It might be worth looking into the difference between “ownership” of highway, and adoption of it. As I understand it the latter means the local authority is responsible for maintaining that highway at public expense, but it doesn’t necessarily imply ownership.

      Jon

      • Alan Dransfield

        Jon Yes indeed, adoption can mean they don’t OWN the highway or the bridge but it can also mean the outright ownership. Moreover Jon , if the PA don’t own why would they pay thousands of pounds and four years fighting a legal dispute?

        Alan M Dransfield

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