Freedom of Information - Rupert Earle


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Freedom of Information - Rupert Earle

  1. 1. Freedom of Information Rupert Earle, Bates Wells & Braithwaite 14 October 2010
  2. 2. Introduction <ul><li>To whom and what do FOIA and EIR apply </li></ul><ul><li>What are the exemptions </li></ul><ul><li>How to make a request and challenge a refusal </li></ul><ul><li>Some headlines </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The Rarer Cancers Forum postcode lottery story </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>NSPCC, information on the number of sex offences involving children in England and Wales </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Role of FOIA in &quot;climategate&quot; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Taxpayers Alliance re British Council spending £50,000 on a new font. </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Freedom of Information Act 2000 – right of access <ul><li>Who can request information? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>any person, motive irrelevant </li></ul></ul><ul><li>What information is potentially discloseable? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>all recorded information held, regardless of age (including pre Jan 2005) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Which bodies are obliged to disclose? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>public authorities listed in Schedule 1, added by Order, or publicly owned company </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>includes information held on behalf of the authority </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>some derogations – e.g. for BBC (journalism) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>What is the entitlement? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>to be informed whether the authority holds the information and to have it communicated within 20 working days (s. 10) (NB: once request finally formulated) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>timetable may be extended if public interest test applies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>bodies have a duty to provide advice and assistance (s. 16) </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. FOIA – right of access <ul><li>Disentitlement to information if: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cost of compliance exceeds £600 (24 hours work) or £450 (18 hours) (s. 12 and Fees Regulations 2004). Authority may charge fee instead (s. 13) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Vexatious or repeated requests (s. 14) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Publication schemes (s.17) </li></ul>
  5. 5. FOIA – Exemptions: absolute <ul><li>s.21: reasonably accessible by other means </li></ul><ul><li>s.23: supplied by or relates to security service </li></ul><ul><li>s.32: contained in records of court/tribunal or inquiry/arbitration </li></ul><ul><li>Kennedy v Charity Commission (2010) HC: inquiry records </li></ul><ul><li>NB: CPR 5.4 </li></ul><ul><li>s.34: disclosure would infringe Parliamentary privilege </li></ul><ul><li>s.40: personal data of applicant, or personal data of another and disclosure would contravene DPA 1998 principles </li></ul><ul><li>NB: exemption absolute, but DP principles may be qualified e.g. DPA sch 2(6), processing necessary, not unwarranted </li></ul><ul><li>HOC v IC and others (2008) HC: MPs’ ACA claims </li></ul><ul><li>DoH v IC and Pro Life Alliance (2009) Tribunal: abortion stats </li></ul>
  6. 6. FOIA – Exemptions: absolute <ul><li>s.41: obtained from another and disclosure would be actionable breach of confidence </li></ul><ul><li> Derry City Council v IC (2006 ) Tribunal: Ryanair agreement </li></ul><ul><li>s.44: disclosure prohibited under any enactment, EU obligation, or contempt of court rules </li></ul><ul><li>FSA v IC (2009) HC: FSA monitoring, s.348 FSMA </li></ul><ul><li>British Union for Abolition of Vivisection v Home Office and IC (2008) CA: licenses, s.24 A(SP)A </li></ul><ul><li>DOH v IC and Pro Life Alliance (2009) Tribunal: abortion stats </li></ul>
  7. 7. FOIA – Exemptions: qualified <ul><li>Where, in all circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information (as at date of request) </li></ul><ul><li>s.22: held with a view to future publication </li></ul><ul><li>s.24: required to safeguard national security </li></ul><ul><li>s.26: disclosure likely to prejudice defence or armed forces </li></ul><ul><li>s.27: disclosure likely to prejudice UK international relations or interests </li></ul><ul><li>s.28: disclosure likely to prejudice relations between UK administrations </li></ul><ul><li>s.29: disclosure likely to prejudice UK economic interests </li></ul><ul><li>s.30: held (at any time) for criminal investigations </li></ul><ul><li>Armstrong v IC and HMRC (2008) Tribunal: export controls trial jury bundle </li></ul><ul><li>Metropolitan Police v IC (2008) Tribunal: police informants, c.1900 </li></ul>
  8. 8. FOIA – Exemptions: qualified <ul><li>s.31: disclosure likely to prejudice law enforcement, including prevention or detection of crime, exercise by public authority of functions for ascertaining whether anyone responsible for improper conduct etc </li></ul><ul><li> Bucks Free Press v IC (2007) Tribunal: speed camera prosecutions </li></ul><ul><li>s.33: held by public authority for audit of other public authorities </li></ul><ul><li>s.35: relates to formulation of government policy (lesser exemption for statistical and background factual information) </li></ul><ul><li> DfES v IC and E Standard (2007) Tribunal: school budgets </li></ul><ul><li>s.36: disclosure (in reasonable opinion of “qualified person”) likely to prejudice convention of collective responsibility or inhibit free and frank provision of advice/exchange of views, or would otherwise prejudice effective conduct of public affairs </li></ul><ul><li>BERR v IC and FOE (2008) Tribunal: CBI lobbying </li></ul><ul><li>ECGD v IC and Campaign Against Arms Trade (2009) Tribunal: assessment of Al Yamamah </li></ul><ul><li>Dedalus v IC and Arts Council (2010) Tribunal: funding cuts </li></ul>
  9. 9. FOIA – Exemptions – qualified <ul><li>s.37: communications with Queen and Royal Family, and re honours </li></ul><ul><li>s.38: disclosure likely to endanger health/safety of any individual </li></ul><ul><li>PETA v IC and University of Oxford (2010) Tribunal : animal testing licence details </li></ul><ul><li>s.39: disclosure under Environmental Information Regulations 2004 </li></ul><ul><li>s.42: subject to legal professional privilege </li></ul><ul><li> Mersey Tunnel Users Association v IC and Merseytravel (2008) Tribunal: counsel’s opinion on debts </li></ul><ul><li>s.43(1): constitutes a trade secret </li></ul><ul><li> DOH v IC (2008) Tribunal: contract for NHS recruitment website </li></ul><ul><li>s.43(2): disclosure likely to prejudice commercial interests </li></ul><ul><li> John Connor Press Associates v IC (2006) Tribunal : payments to artist </li></ul><ul><li> Derry City Council v IC (2006) Tribunal: Ryanair agreement </li></ul>
  10. 10. FOIA – Appeals <ul><li>Internal reconsideration, reasons (20 working days, ICO Guidance) </li></ul><ul><li>Application to Information Commissioner: Decision Notice </li></ul><ul><li>Appeal to First Tier Tribunal – rehearing, witness evidence. Decision Notice </li></ul><ul><li>Costs: only if party acted unreasonably in bringing, defending or conducting proceedings </li></ul><ul><li>Tribunal Procedure (First Tier Tribunal) (General Regulatory Chamber) Rules 2009 </li></ul><ul><li>Appeal (on point of law only) to Upper Tribunal </li></ul><ul><li>Costs: usual rules </li></ul>
  11. 11. Environmental Information Regulations 2004 – right of access <ul><li>Implement EU Directive 2003/4/EC </li></ul><ul><li>(1) “Increased access to environmental information and the dissemination of such information contribute to greater awareness of environmental matters, a free exchange of views, more effective participation by the public in environmental decision making and, eventually, to a better environment. ” </li></ul><ul><li>(16) “Disclosure of information should be the general rule… Grounds for refusal should be interpreted in a restrictive way.” </li></ul><ul><li>Duty on a public authority which holds environmental information to </li></ul><ul><ul><li>progressively make it available (r.4) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>make it available on request (r.5) </li></ul></ul>
  12. 12. EIR – right of access <ul><li>“ public authority” means </li></ul><ul><ul><li>FOIA public authorities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>any other body or person that carries out functions of public administration </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>any body or other person under control of public authority and has public environmental responsibilities/functions </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ environmental information” includes </li></ul><ul><ul><li>state of environment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>factors/measures likely to affect it </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>cost-benefit and other analyses </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>state of human health and safety </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Camden Council (2010) IC : commercial users of waste collection service </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. EIR: requests <ul><li>Time limit: 20 w/d unless impracticable (40 w/d) </li></ul><ul><li>Reasonable photocopying charge only </li></ul><ul><li>Advice and assistance </li></ul>
  14. 14. EIR: exceptions <ul><li>All qualified, public interest in maintaining exception must outweigh public interest in disclosure </li></ul><ul><li>r.12.4 - request manifestly unreasonable, material still being compiled, internal communications </li></ul><ul><li> ECGD v. FOE (2008) HC : Sakhalin oil and gas project </li></ul><ul><li>r.12.5 - disclosure would adversely affect: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>(a) International relations, defence, national security, public safety </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>EGCD v ICO and Corner House (2009) Tribunal: Baku-Ceyhan pipeline </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(b) course of justice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mersey Tunnel Users Assoc v IC and Halton BC (2010) Tribunal: legal advice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(c) IP rights </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ofcom v IC (2010) SC : mobile phone base station location database </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(d)-(e) confidentiality, where provided by law* </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cornwall Airport (2010) IC: wildlife management tender </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bristol City Council v IC and Portland and Brunswick Squares Association (2010) Tribunal: building viability report (cf Bath and NE Somerset Council v IC (2010) Tribunal) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(f) interests of supplier of information who does not consent* </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(g) protection of environment* </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>* Exception not available for emissions information </li></ul></ul><ul><li>r.13 - personal data, applying DPA tests </li></ul>
  15. 15. FOIA – Formulating a letter of request <ul><li>check publication scheme </li></ul><ul><li>expert input to focus on what authority likely to hold </li></ul><ul><li>if personal data, invite redactions, ask for consent </li></ul><ul><li>set out public interests in disclosure, why oversight limited? </li></ul><ul><li>pseudonyms? </li></ul><ul><li>jigsaw requests through third parties </li></ul><ul><li>make personal contact </li></ul>
  16. 16. FOIA – Formulating a request for a review <ul><li>use Tribunal decisions/ICO guidance </li></ul><ul><li>set out why prejudice from disclosure unlikely </li></ul><ul><li>ECHR, Article 10 </li></ul><ul><li>Társaság a Szabadságjogokért v. Hungary 2009 </li></ul><ul><li>“ the law cannot allow arbitrary restrictions which may become a form of indirect censorship should the authorities create obstacles to the gathering of information” </li></ul>
  17. 17. FOIA – delays <ul><li>backlog </li></ul><ul><li>Student Loans Company Ltd v IC (2009), Tribunal </li></ul><ul><li>“ delays of the magnitude which occurred here seriously undermine the operation of the Act. The right to obtain information that ought to be made public loses much of its usefulness if it cannot be enforced within a reasonable timescale… if public authorities come to expect that a reference to the Commissioner may take several years to be dealt with, they may be tempted to withhold information that ought to be disclosed, in the hope that the requester or the public will have lost interest in the topic by the time it is finally prised out of them, or that any embarrassment that might have been caused by prompt disclosure will be diminished because of the passage of time. Such a situation would be wholly unacceptable.” </li></ul>
  18. 18. Using the information <ul><li>Copyright infringement, if reproduction of (qualitatively) substantial part </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Fair dealing for purpose of criticism or review, providing sufficient acknowledgment (CPDA 1988 s.30) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fair dealing (other than with photo) for purpose of reporting current events, providing sufficient acknowledgment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Public interest? </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. FOIA – Information Commissioner powers <ul><li>Where ICO becomes aware of regular or serious failings he can: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>give advice and guidance (ICO Enforcement Strategy) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>give practice recommendations (s. 48) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>publically name the body involved (ICO Enforcement Strategy) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>make a special report to parliament (s. 49(2)) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Regulatory intervention </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Enforcement notices (s. 55) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Destruction of requested information </li></ul><ul><ul><li>outside of normal records management policies, it will be a breach of the Act </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>to prevent disclosure, criminal offence (s. 77) </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Other FOI legislation/routes <ul><li>Data Protection Act 1998: data subject access requests </li></ul><ul><li>Specific regimes for medical data, criminal records, national archives etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Audit Commission Act 1998 </li></ul><ul><li> Veolia v Nottinghamshire CC [2009] </li></ul><ul><li>JR pre-action disclosure </li></ul><ul><li>Parliamentary questions </li></ul><ul><li>EU Regulation 1049/2001 on Public Access to European Parliament, Council and Commission Documents </li></ul><ul><li>Scotland </li></ul><ul><li>US Freedom of Information Act </li></ul>
  21. 21. FOIA – the future <ul><li>The Coalition: our programme for government: “We will extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency” </li></ul><ul><li>What might this mean? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>New bodies: Network Rail, Northern Rock, Carbon Trust, Energy Saving Trust, NHS Confederation, LGA, Traffic Penalty Tribunals? (Conservatives) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Restrict section 36 exemption to “substantial prejudice”. (Liberals) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>End Ministerial veto (Liberals) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Allow appeals to Upper Tribunal on points of fact (Liberals) </li></ul></ul>
  22. 22. FIOA – questions <ul><li>Rupert Earle </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>020 7551 7609 </li></ul>