Wednesday, July 13, 2005

E-mails between councils on FOI requests

From the BBC website: "BBC News in Norwich applied under the FOIA 2000 to South Norfolk Council in an attempt to shed light on the way councils are dealing with requests. The BBC asked for e-mails between it and other councils on FOI requests. But the council refused, saying it would damage free and frank discussions between council officers."

This is an interesting area the BBC have picked up on, there is a fine line between certain public authorities working together and agreeing that certain classes of information are exempt or pre judging requests against relevant debate and discussion that takes place to develop good practice and general discussion of FOI. It is important that each authority deals with each request as a standalone case - looking at the content and nature of the information request. Whilst decisions of other authorities and case law may have some background influence. The decision must be made by the authority and they must be responsible for it.

In the example of this request for the emails between FOI officers I can see the case that some emails would be exempt to allow frank discussion - on the other hand there may be emails that can be disclosed and I wouldn't like to see a block exemption of all emails. The content of the emails should be examined (within cost limits).

It would be worth thinking about whether requesters are named in these types of "cross authority" emails - certainly could be regarded as a DP breach.

I know this will be controversial topic! and would be interested to hear views of users and FOI officers, you can post below (anonymously if you like)


Phil Bradshaw said...

We have not had such a request but if we did I would almost certainly release without too much thought.

We are very close to a position where as a matter of principle we will not use s36 save in the most extreme of cases.

Jim Whitaker said...

This covers very similar ground to the central clearing house (moved, I think, from the Cabinet Office to the DCA) which is to consider and "co-ordinate" the responses of central government bodies (principally, but not exclusively, Ministries of State.) I too can see little difficulty in meeting such a request. Again S36 is, I believe, going to be very rare.