Help!Posted on December 12th, 2012 1 comment
Help. I’m surfacing from a self-imposed blogging curfew in an attempt to see if anybody out there in the cyberworld can offer me any words or advice or assistance in relation to an Information Tribunal I have become embroiled in.
The public authority in the case is the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). It would appear its purpose is to collate all data from the NHS and is responsible for publications on almost everything statistics-based that comes out of the NHS.
Since FoI came in I’ve had limited success getting information from them and finally we seem set to lock horns in an Information Tribunal next week (December 18).
The crux of the issue is can they refuse me the information I seek by applying a S.21 (information reasonably accessible by other means) exemption saying that I can have the data if I pay for it – the price they have quoted me is £1,550.
As I said the issue has a long history and initially in the Information Commissioner’s Decision Notice [FS50420295] the data was refused me on the basis that it wasn’t held by the HSCIC. After my notice of appeal to the Tribunal Notice of Appeal (IR 2012)] the Information Commissioner backed down and said he agreed it was held but that it was now exempt under S.21.
The HSCIC does state on its publication scheme that if you want a tailor-made report then it will cost and they publish a summary of these fees – but can £1,550 really mean that it is “reasonably accessible”.
In my skeleton argument to the Tribunal I have tried to compare the HSCIC with other organisations (The Office of National Statistics, The Ministry of Justice, The Department of Work and Pensions) that hold huge databases but don’t charge people under FoI if they want to “cut and slice” it in a particular way that hasn’t been done before.
My concern is that if my appeal fails it opens up a trap-door in FoI that other organisations will be able to exploit to avoid having to answer questions that they feel will put them to too much work.
I’m up against two barristers – the Information Commissioner and the HSCIC will have one – so any e-mailed advice or assistance in the case would be much appreciated.
One response to “Help!”
Phil Bradshaw December 12th, 2012 at 22:18
Tricky one given the clear indications in s21 which do not refer to a reasonable charge as such. I could refer you to the ICO guidance on publication schemes and s21 but am sure you have read those.
However one esoteric line might be :
a) s21 refers to charges for FOI responses calculated in accordance with the publication scheme
b) the website you refer to refers to provision after 5 6 or 8 weeks. However FOI requires provision of information within 20 working days therefore these cannot be charges calculated in accordance with an FOI publication scheme. Publication (per ICO) implies information which can be provided within 5 working days. I can see some logical flaws with that but nothing to lose in trying it ! If the ICO concedes now that it is held, then they are not offering published information. The argument is, put another way, that the charges on the website are for unpublished information. Concentrate on the definitions and meanings of ‘publish’ in s19 (and the dictionary) rather than the words made available in s21.
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