WhatDoTheyKnow About Refusing Requests?

FOIMan reviews refusal notices issued via the WhatDoTheyKnow.com website.

FOI is all about transparency. Most of the time that is demonstrated by disclosing requested information. On occasion though, public authorities have to refuse requests, and where this is the case, transparency should extend to the reasons why the requested information cannot be disclosed.

The Act itself (and the Environmental Information Regulations as well) sets out the requirement to issue a notice explaining the refusal and what must be included in it. Not surprisingly, the Information Commissioner has provided guidance over the years on how this obligation ought to be met as well.

Public authorities should therefore have a pretty clear idea of what to tell applicants when they refuse requests. Well, perhaps…

In my latest article for PDP’s FOI Journal, I examine 250 responses to requests made via the WhatDoTheyKnow.com website. Unfortunately I find that many responses leave a lot to be desired. You can read the article here.

2 comments

  1. Good piece as always, Paul. I would suggest you also look at “information not held” responses, as they are not always clear and simple. In my experience of advising colleagues, such replies often cause trouble and mistrust (and provoke internal reviews) when the requester reasonably expects that information to be held and the authority simply states it isn’t, without providing any explanation as to why. The result is that the requester suspects the authority is interpreting the request in an unfairly narrow way. Sometimes, of course, this suspicion may be right …

  2. Hi Paul, great piece as always. There is, of course, also the general public law duty in relation to adequate reasons. At its most basic, the law requires that reasons be intelligible and adequate. That doesn’t mean that reasons must be verbose; they can be brief as long as they don’t leave the reader with a substantial doubt as to whether there has been an error in law.