Our work

With over 30 years experience of campaigning and working in the FOI field we have unique experience in the operation of the FOI Act, the rationale for its provisions and decisions under it.

Campaigns

We campaign to defend the FOI Act and improve it. Find out about our current campaigns.

Policy and lobbying

We provide briefings to parliamentarians, respond to government consultations and give evidence to parliamentary committees on issues which have implications for Freedom of Information. These briefings – including our briefings on the FOI bill as it went through Parliament – are all on the site.

Advice and information

We provide advice to requesters, mainly from people wanting to know whether a refusal to disclose information is justified or seeking assistance in complaining to the Information Commissioner or Tribunal.

We have published a short guide to the FOI Act and Environmental Information Regulations. For general enquiries about the legislation please read this before contacting us.

Examples of Tribunal cases where we have assisted include:

  • A woman died in hospital aged 101 after being admitted with a broken arm. Her son later complained about her treatment. He was sent the results of the trust’s findings into his complaint but his FOI request for the material generated during the investigation itself was refused. The Information Commissioner (ICO) upheld the refusal under the Act’s exemption for a breach of confidence. We pointed out that this exemption only applied to information supplied to the authority by some ‘other person’. Information obtained by an authority from its own employees in connection with their workplace duties is considered to have been produced by the authority itself, not obtained from another person. We drafted a section for his submission citing previous Tribunal decisions and Ministry of Justice guidance to this effect. The Tribunal agreed and ordered disclosure of the majority of the withheld information.
    EA/2011/0055, Mr C M Johnston & Information Commissioner
  • The report of an independent police investigation into the shortcomings of a police force’s murder inquiry was withheld from the victim’s sister. The ICO upheld the refusal. It considered that as the report had been produced in response to the sister’s complaint it was her own personal data and thus exempt under FOI but potentially accessible to her under the Data Protection Act (DPA). Only a third of the report was later disclosed to her under the DPA. We told her that only the parts of the report referring to relations between herself and the police could be her personal data: information about the murder inquiry could not be. We advised her to insist on a formal decision notice (the ICO had closed her case without one) so that she could appeal to the Tribunal. We drafted her grounds of appeal and helped her find pro bono legal representation. The Tribunal overturned the ICO’s decision, ordered disclosure of more than 90% of the disputed report and ruled on the correct approach in such cases.  EA/2009/0083, Joanna Bryce & Information Commissioner & Cambridgeshire Constabulary
  • A requester had been refused information about the levels of toxic materials on a heavily contaminated former industrial site. Open cast mining was being considered although there was a school and housing nearby. The Information Commissioner ordered the Regional Development Agency (RDA) to disclose the information but it appealed on the grounds that the data would be misinterpreted, cause unnecessary alarm and jeopardise future development. We drafted a Tribunal submission for the requester pointing out that one of the two exemptions relied on by the RDA could not apply to information about environmental emissions, a point which the ICO had not mentioned.  Three days after receiving this submission the RDA abandoned its appeal (while maintaining that this was due to the forthcoming abolition of RDAs).  It went on to disclose a heavily redacted version of the information. The requester subsequently applied for the full information from the new owners of the land, citing the Campaign’s arguments, and received it in full.
    Information Commissioner Decision FER50395418, Advantage West Midlands Regional Development Agency
  • An NHS trust refused to release information that it had supplied to the Health Service Ombudsman about the requester’s complaint to the Ombudsman. The ICO ruled that the trust was prohibited from releasing that information by a statutory restriction normally assumed to apply only to the Ombudsman. This states that “Information obtained by [the Ombudsman] in the course of or for the purposes of an investigation shall not be disclosed” but without saying by whom it may not be disclosed. This was generally understood to refer only to the Ombudsman but the ICO interpreted this as applying to anyone who had supplied information to the Ombudsman and anyone else who also held that information. The decision would have created an entirely new layer of secrecy around the work of the Ombudsman. The Campaign was permitted to intervene in the hearing, despite the ICO’s repeated objections. We argued that the ICO’s interpretation would prevent people who had complained to the Ombudsman from disclosing information about their problem to anyone else, an inconceivable restriction on the Article 10 ECHR right to freedom expression. An NHS body would not be permitted to disclose information which it had supplied to the Ombudsman even to a GP or consultant for the patient’s continued treatment. The Tribunal agreed that these consequences could not have been intended by Parliament and overturned the ICO’s decision.
    EA/2011/0183 Miguel Cubells and Information Commissioner and Wrightington, Wigan & Leigh NHS Foundation Trust
  • The ICO ruled that short passages of 1961 correspondence relating to the “Congo crisis” of the 1960s would still be likely to damage international relations if released in 2008. The requester appealed, arguing that the information was not exempt and even if it was the public interest favoured disclosure because of the benefits to public understanding in both the UK and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The ICO replied that only the benefits to the UK public could be considered and that any benefits to the people of the Congo were irrelevant to the Act’s public interest test. The requester appealed. The Campaign drafted a submission to the Tribunal arguing that in appropriate cases it was inconceivable that the Act’s public interest test could take no account of benefits which were solely experienced overseas, for example, in preventing loss of life, helping relieve natural disasters or preventing the loss of endangered species. The Tribunal did not rule on the issue as the Appeal was withdrawn when it was discovered that the disputed information was already in the public domain. We have published the submission in case the same issue arises in a future case. Information Commissioner Decision  FS50252765, The National Archives

 

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