Tribunal is just the latest step in council battle

The confrontation between a north Northumberland resident and a parish council is set to move to the courtroom in March.

Thursday, 14th January 2016, 2:00 pm
Rothbury Parish Council noticeboard in the village. Picture by Jane Coltman

As reported by the Gazette in October last year, the public body that upholds information rights found in favour of Rothbury Parish Council following a complaint over refused FOI requests.

The complainant in the case had requested various information from the 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.

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

However, the complainant appealed the decision to the first-tier tribunal (information rights) and a one-day hearing in the case of Anthony Kell v The Information Commissioner and Rothbury Parish Council is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, March 22, in Newcastle.

Meanwhile, another decision notice from the ICO, dated last Thursday, has found in favour of the parish council.

It relates to a complainant who requested information relating to the employment of the parish council clerk.

The council did not respond on the basis of section 17(6) of the FOI Act, which states that a public body does not need to respond if it is relying on a claim that section 14 applies. This was evident by the refusal which forms the basis of the first decision notice and appeal.

The notice concludes: ‘Having warned the complainant that future related requests would not be responded to, the Commissioner believes that it would have been unreasonable to expect the council to issue a further refusal notice.