Cops say requests vexatious

| 11/01/2011

(CNS): The bi-annual report by the Information Commissioner’s Office for the first half of 2010 reveals that the most frequently applied exemption for refusing freedom of information requests was section 9 (a) of the law relating to “vexatious” requests. The report said that this had been used 41 times as grounds for refusal or 30% of all the reasons for turning requests down. Of those 41 it was used 40 times by the police, the ICO revealed, triggering an investigation, the results of which are expected to become public shortly. The second most frequent refusal was section 23(1), the “unreasonable disclosure of personal information”, which was used 37 times by different public bodies and accounted for 27% of the total refusals.

‘This usage is high for these first six months as compared to last year’s figure of 47 over a twelve month period,’ Jennifer Dilbert, the information commissioner, said in the report. She also noted that while there was evidence that authorities have become more familiar with the use of the law, there were still issues with the approach public bodies had towards the culture of freedom of information.

“The continuous thread thatseems to run through the application of the law is the public authorities’ tendency to view any potentially controversial information as secret or personal,” Dilbert stated. “Therefore the ICO remains focused on encouraging a cultural shift to reform that way of thinking to one which promotes transparency to the extent that the law allows.”

In the bi-annual round-up of the first half of 2010 the information commissioner reveals that there were a total of 264 access requests made to 53 of the 88 current public authorities, bringing the number of requests since the law came into effect in January 2009 to 1086. Of those 264 requests made in the first half of the year 202 were resolved in that six month period.

Information managers refused requests fora range of reasons, from “no record” to deferrals, with a total of 29 different sections of the law being applied to deny access. However, the exemption that the “Request for record is deemed to be vexatious” was used 41 times.

“40 of these were by the same public authority. Due to the high usage of section 9(a) the ICO (conducted) inquiries with the authority to determine the reasons behind such use,” the report revealed. At the time of the report the case was still open but the office explained on Monday following the tabling of the report in the Legislative Assembly that it has since been closed and the public authority was the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

“The mediation summary for the case will be completed and up on the website in the next couple of days, which will give a better account of why and how the exemption was used,” the office explained.

During the first half of 2010, 10% or 21 of the FOI requests made were also refused or closed as a result of “no records” being found. The commissioner pointed out, however, that this could mean that either the requested records do not exist, or that the requested records could not be located.

Dilbert also noted in her report that in order for her office to assess the system properly it requires the various public authorities to input their FOI related activity into the “JADE” tracking system but human error was causing problems.

“By analyzing these reports the ICO is able to determine how government handles FOI requests in general and identify any systemic issues or issues specific to a particular authority. While the ICO meticulously collates all relevant data, there are several factors which will result in a margin of error in the accuracy of statistical figures. Since the end of 2009, analysis has shown that the main cause for the inaccuracy in statistical reporting is data input errors by the public authorities,” the report revealed.

The commissioner pointed out that, while the errors could be mitigated by liaising with the FOI Unit, which has full access to the JADE system that can provide reports where public authorities fail to do so, it is creating an unnecessary burden on both offices. As a result, Dilbert said, to assist the ICO to meet its obligations under the law the office it should have full read access to the JADE system, which it has not been given.

To read full report, click here and then click on "Bi-Annual Report 1st January – 30th June 2010"

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Category: FOI

Comments (11)

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  1. nauticalone says:

    Thank you ICO for pushing forward to effect a culture of Transparency. Hopefully some day this will include actual "Accountability"!

    There really "should" be no need to not answer most requests.

  2. Rorschach says:

    What would REALLY be interesting is if the RCIPS had the b@lls to publish all those requests that they deemed "Vexatious" and let us decide for ourselves….Nah….didn’t think so…..

    • Dennie Warren Jr. says:

      Sounds like you should submit an FOI request for them. 🙂

      • Rorschach says:

        Thanksfor the suggestion Dennie…I will wait and give the RCIPS the opportunity to do the right thing, but will definatley have the paperwork filled out and ready to go on Feb 1.

  3. Dennie Warren Jr. says:

    It appears that some civil servants are breaching the law by blocking access to information which should be released to the public, and that is a major serious concern!  This ICO report should serve as another wakeup call to the general public.  Section 55 (1) of the FOI Law reads:

    "A person commits an offence, if in relation to a record to which a right of access is conferred under this Law, he-

        (a) alters or defaces;
        (b) blocks or erases;
        (c) destroys; or
        (d) conceals,
    the record with the intention of preventing its disclosure.

    (2) A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is liable on
    summary conviction to a fine of one hundred thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment."

    My advice to anyone is, do not give up on your FOI request, but instead struggle for your right to know by appealing any request you feel should be granted according to law, or that you feel the refusal constitutes a breach of Section 55(1)…

    • Scottish,Irish,Jamacian born CAYMANIAN says:

      I’m thankful that there is one like you that knows &/or will research, AND!…….. make available these types of information pieces to the people for there knowledge.

      There is power in KNOWLEDGE & when we know & understand the dymamics of a given matter,…… LETS STAND UP AS A PEOPLE FOR , WHAT WE KNOW!, WHAT WE WANT! & WHAT WE EXPECT!….. of those that lead us (not so wisely at times i might add)………

      Denny, u r a fine example of what a true concerned citizen behaves and voices his opinion, is like. tks BROTHER…

  4. Anonymous says:

    That the RCIPS is using the ‘vexatious’ defence is hardly surprising. It has always been, from my extensive experience, the policy of many UK police forces to treat potentially embarrassing FOI requests in this manner. The normal response being that the request had, in the opinion of the police, no serious public interest value or was obsessive.

    Check out this from Commissioner Baines’ former employing force ––information/freedom-of-information/disclosure-log/2010/08/request-2625-2636-2630—co.aspx

    The only answer is for the ICO and the LA to take a robust stance on this and remind the authorities concerned that the vexatious exemption can only be used in exceptional circumstances.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you for highlighting that case. BUT it hardly backs up the cause that the RCIPS are being unreasonable for Cheshire to have taken this approach.  Any reasonable person would see that the multiple and identical requests fit the bill exactly and appear to be the work of someone with a fanatical obsession.   This is the problem with FOI – it is good for accountability, but when it becomes obsessive and vindictive, it does not help the case.  Some UK police have a whole department dedicated to preparing and releasing information such is the workload, and they release far more than they don’t.

  5. Anonymous says:

    FOI requests should be treated like Crimestoppercalls.

    All FOI requests should go to an independent agency that is managed off-island by persons who have absolutely no knowledge or interest in Cayman’s political situation.

    That way, we could be assured that the data entry process into the JADE systsem for initial FOI requests is accurate. How a government entity responds to an FOI request is still up to the entity, but at least the people of the Cayman Islands would know that the request had been made in the first place.

    The current system of allowing government entities to be responsible for 100% of the FOI data entry into the JADE system leaves too much room for fiddling with the data. Garbage in / Garbage out could be a very convenient way for government entities to "game" the system.

    Jennifer, keep up the good work and keep holding the government’s feet to the fire.

  6. Anonymous says:

    From the Information Commissioner’s Report:

    “As a result Dilbert said to assist the ICO to meet its obligations under the law the office it should have full read access to the JADE system, which it has not been given.
    Hold on a minute, we have a big problem here!
    From the above statement it is concluded that Government is again sabotaging the work of the Information Commissioner – not surprising mind you – this is totally unacceptable.
    Secrecy at work to cover up dark government deeds.
    Another reason not to trust Government, the Legislative Assembly, the Legislative Assembly Members and the Speaker to do anything that is not out in the full sunshine of public view for all see. The Caymanian Compass was so accurate – the Speaker and some MLA’s got it totally wrong.
    I will now submit an FOI to the Information Commissioner and the FOI Unit to see if they will release all correspondence related to the status of access by the Information Commissioner to the JADED JADE system.
    How can the Information Commissioner do their work when they do not have access to all relevant information? Answer they cannot.
    This UDP Government and senior Civil Servants are trying to destroy all of the good governance and democracy building provisions that came with the new Constitution.
  7. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Jennifer Dilbert.  Thank you for standing up for what is right.  Thank you for being such a great leader of Freedom of Information.  Thank you to the Government who passed the legislation for Freedom of Information.  Please, do not allow any Government present or future change this law to restrict Freedom of Information.  Government is answerable to those who elect them – let us never forget that that Goverment is answerable even though they like to think otherwise.