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.