Parish’s refusal of FOI requests was legitimate

Rothbury Parish Council noticeboard in the village'Picture Jane Coltman
Rothbury Parish Council noticeboard in the village'Picture Jane Coltman

The public body that upholds information rights has found in favour of a rural north Northumberland parish council following a complaint over refused FOI requests.

The complainant in the case had requested various information from Rothbury Parish Council relating to complaint procedures, records management and a contract for gardening services under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

The council refused the requests as vexatious under section 14(1) of the FOI Act, which is designed to protect public authorities by allowing them to refuse any requests which have the potential to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress.

The complainant then referred the issue to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), whose decision, published last Wednesday, was that the council ‘cited section 14(1) correctly and so it was not obliged to comply with the complainant’s requests’.

The ICO report says that the parish council pointed to the large number of requests for information as well as its wider dealings with the complainant.

It continues: ‘The Commissioner’s view is that the volume of requests made by the complainant was in itself unreasonable behaviour on his part’, before adding that complying is ‘unlikely to provide any resolution or to result in a cessation of the complainant’s unreasonable requesting and wider behaviour towards the council’.

The Commissioner also explains that he has considered whether there is ‘any overarching value’ to the requests which means they should be complied with, but goes on to state that the requests ‘appear to reflect the complainant’s preoccupation with the minutiae of the work of the council, rather than any issue of wider public interest’.

In the conclusion, the report states: ‘His (the Commissioner’s) view is that the number of requests made by the complainant to a public authority of very limited resources meant that they did have the potential to cause disruption to that authority.

‘As to whether that disruption would be disproportionate, the Commissioner has taken into account that he does not believe that these requests are either of particular value, or that complying with them would be likely to resolve the complainant’s wider issue with the council.

‘For these reasons, the conclusion of the Commissioner is that complying with the complainant’s requests would result in a disproportionate and unjustified level of disruption to the council.

‘Those requests were, therefore, vexatious and so the council was entitled to refuse them under section 14(1) of the FOIA’.