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.
Posted on February 18th, 2010 No comments
The UK Border Agency has had its knuckles rapped by the Information Commissioner after it took almost a year to respond to a Freedom of Information question.
A request was made on the whatdotheyknow website about information relating to the decision to ban Dutch MP Geert Wilders from entering the UK.
Mr Wilders had caused controversy in that he was responsible for producing a film called Fitna, branded by many as anti-muslim.
Because of these views the British Government decided he should not be allowed into the country. Eventually he was allowed in and showed his film at the House of Lords.
More background on Mr Wilders and his film can be found [here].
The request for information was made to the UK Border Agency on February 12, 2009 and they acknowledged the request five days later. In March, July, August and September there was some communication between the parties but the question was still not answered.
Eventually in on September 30 the applicant got in touch with the Commissioner’s office and on October 30 the Commissioner communicated with the UK Borders Agency, who said “unfortunately a response to this case has not yet been issued”.
The UK Border Agency said it was in the process of answering but was trying to assess a possible S.36 (Prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs) exemption to some of the information.
Finally the Information Commissioner counted out the UK Border Agency when it still had not not replied by December.
A Decision Notice was issued dated January 7, 2010 [link] and finally the UK Border Agency did reply, although it decided after all that time to exempt most of the information under S.21 (Available by another means), S.27 (International Relations), S.36 (Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) and S.40 (Personal Information).
You can see the whole history of the request posted on whatdotheyknow [link] and for those of you interested there is a news clipping on Mr Wilders below.
Posted on July 28th, 2009 No comments
A look at the cases in the pipeline for the Information Tribunal shows it is going to be a busy autumn for the court this year.
Hopefully the rulings should put some markers in the sand about what is and is not allowed to be exempted from disclosure under the Act.
The full list of cases has just been updated and can be found [here], but I’ve highlighted a few that I think are potentially the most interesting.
Royal Mail – 10th/11th Sept – Here the Information Commissioner ruled the amount spent on management consultants by the Post Office over the last five years should be disclosed despite protestations that the statistics should be covered by S.43 (Commercial Interests). Interesting as I can’t think many FoI officers would agree with the Royal Mail’s position on this one. The Commissioner decision was that the information was not covered by S.43 and didn’t even go on to examine the public interest test IF the exemption had been in play. [FS 50178376]
Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR)
Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) – 22nd/23rd Sept – This could be a lively hearing in that it relates to the export licences granted to a company called EDO MBM Technology Ltd. This Brighton-based Aerospace Engineering Company, has been the subject of a campaign by local pressure groups who alleged that it had supplied Israel with military aircraft components. There have been a number of demonstrations and protests at the firm’s headquarters. This appeal relates to an attempt by an applicant to get hold of the export licences granted to EDO. The Commissioner agreed with BERR’s ruling on the matter that the information was covered by S.41 (Information Provided in Confidence). [FS 50180838]
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Department for Culture, Media and Sport – 9th/10th Nov – This relates to internal Government memos on its casino policy, which changed a number of times. Here the Information Commissioner rejected arguments that documents should not be disclosed because the were covered by S.35 (Formulation of Government Policy) and S.43 (Commercial Interests). [FS 50160256]
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) – 22nd/23rd October – I have written about this case before [Flight of Fancy shot down by ICO] where the CAA is refusing to issue safety reports on a cargo airline. It has claimed a S.31 (law enforcement) exemption but the Information Commissioner kicked that argument into touch saying the CAA had not shown how releasing such documents would prejudice its affairs. [FS 50168527]
Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)
Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) – 16th November – In this case the HEFCE doesn’t want to disclose the database it holds on the make-up and quality of university buildings. It claims the information is covered by a S.41 (Information Provided in Confidence) exemption, but the Commissioner ruled against the authority. Again I have blogged on this case in the past [Uni database to be opened to public scrutiny] and noted the Commissioner ruled the information was not covered by the exemption as there would be no ‘detriment’ to the universities who supplied it. [FS 50188864]
University of Central Lancashire
University of Central Lancashire – 3rd/4th and 5th of November – Pack your healing crystals and make sure you sleep on lay lines as this one is all about the ‘science’ of homeopathy. This case was brought by real scientist David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, who wanted all the papers relating to its homeopathy course. The university refused claiming the info was covered by S.36 (Prejudice to effective conduct of Public Affairs), S41 (Information Provided in Confidence) S.43 (Commercial Interests) and S.21 exemption (available by another means) on the basis that the applicant could pay to enroll on the course and after shelling out almost £10,000 over three years he could view the course documents. The Information Commissioner again rejected the University’s arguments and ordered the documents to be disclosed. The university has refused to back down and will now take its arguments to the druids’ court, sorry I mean the Tribunal. This is an interesting case in that it is at the focus of very public battles between so-called scientists and those that have been dubbed ‘bad-scientists’ in that they hold pseudo scientific beliefs. These arguments are now being hammered out in the libel courts and here at the Information Tribunal, which many would argue is not the proper use of these institutions. Again I have written on this topic before at [Details of “Bad Science” BSc to be revealed]. The Information Commissioner’s decision on the case can be found here [FS 50140374]Decisions BERR, CAA, department of culture media and sport, EDO, HEFCE, homeopathy, information tribunal, royal mail, S.21 (Available by another means), S.31 (Law Enforcement), s.35 (Formulation of Government policy), S.36 (Prejudice to effective conduct of Public Affairs), S.41 (Information Provided in Confidence), s.43 (Commercial Interests), university of Central Lancashire
Posted on May 1st, 2009 No comments
I have found the following article in the Times Higher Education Supplement that I think is of interest. One of the most startling points of the following case – in which the university has been ordered to disclose all the materials associated with its homeopathy course – is that at one point they used the S.21 exemption (available by another means) on the basis that the applicant could pay to enroll on the course and after shelling out almost £10,000 over three years he could view the course documents. That argument failed. The university also unsuccessfully tried to apply S.36 (Prejudice to effective conduct of Public Affairs), S41 (Information Provided in Confidence) and S.43 (Commercial Interests).
The article said:
Teaching materials used on a BSc degree in homoeopathy must be released to a campaigner against “pseudo-scientific” courses, the Information Commissioner has ruled.
The ruling will force the University of Central Lancashire to submit to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act by David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, and could set a precedent for the sector.
Professor Colquhoun, who is well known for a blog he writes attacking what he sees as phoney science, first submitted requests for the material to Uclan in July 2006.
The university refused to comply on the grounds that the material was commercially confidential and could be reasonably accessed by other means – namely, by enrolling on the course.
In addition, it argued that “the effective conduct of public affairs” would be prejudiced or likely to be prejudiced by releasing the requested information.
Despite Uclan’s protests, Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, ruled that none of the exemptions that organisations can rely upon to withhold information applied in this case.
He said that the university could not be considered a commercial organisation for FoI purposes, and must now release the course materials, bar any case notes that refer to patients.
The course under scrutiny has closed, but Professor Colquhoun told Times Higher Education that this did not mean the information was no longer of interest or detract from the precedent set by the commissioner’s ruling.
“The course that prompted the request is no longer the point,” he said. “What matters is that all the usual exemptions claimed by universities have been ruled invalid.
“In future, they will not be able to refuse requests for teaching materials … people will be able to get hold of whole courses if they want to.”
A spokesman for Uclan said it would appeal the decision.