03 August, 2016
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) entitles anyone to make a request to a public authority for information. Providing the request is in writing, the requester is not required to specify why he or she wants the information and the public authority is required to assess it and respond accordingly within 20 working days.
In the recent case of Mike Barnes v The Information Commissioner and Stoke on Trent City Council it was found that as the information requested was not held by the Council it was not required to disclose it.
Mr Barnes had requested copies of minutes held by council representatives of the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB).
The Council relied on section 3 (2) of FOIA and replied that it did not hold the information for the purposes of FOIA because it was held on behalf of the LSCB so it was not required to comply. The Council's argument was that the LSCB was established under section 13 of the Children Act 2004 and its functions as set out in "Working together to safeguard children 2015" meant that it is not a public authority for the purposes of FOIA. The ICO agreed with this assessment and so did the tribunal.
The tribunal pointed out that it was not disputed that the LSCB was not a public authority for the purposes of FOIA and it was satisfied that as the Council did not hold the information for its own purposes it was not disclosable under FOIA. The tribunal also considered the role of the Council employees and the role of the minutes. It found that whilst the Council contributes by seconding an employee, it does not have ownership of the minutes that are generated as this is a matter for the LSCB, the activities that the members perform are on behalf of LSCB and not the Council, the minutes are not published or widely circulated and transparency is provided by the LSCB publishing an annual report.
This decision makes it clear that when processing a request under the Freedom of Information Act, careful consideration must be made as to whether the information is held by the relevant public authority. Where the request relates to an independent body with Council representation, the relevant activities of that body ought to be determined to establish whether it is covered by the FOIA.
Forbes Solicitors provide advice to a range of public authorities in relation to the applicability of FOIA, as well as advice in relation to the Data Protection Act 1998, the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. If you have any questions, please contact Daniel Milnes.