Suffolk County Council's Freedom of Information handling "unlawful"

I was unhappy yesterday when my Freedom of Information request for the full responses from the library consultation were met with a refusal on the grounds that they were going to publish the information later. In this case much later in July after the cabinet meets to decide the fate of Suffolk's libraries.

For those interested in the legals the refusal was made using an exemption under s22 of the Freedom of Information Act. But this exemption is subject to what is called a "public interest test" which was completely missing.

As I detailed in my blog post I phoned Suffolk County Council and asked for this and was told they don't normally provide it but would in this case as I had asked. The phone was then unceremoniously put down on me. They have so far failed to provide the information they promised.

Clearly the County Council thought I was being unreasonable and annoying but last night I made some very interesting discoveries on the Information Commissioner's website.

There is clear guidance on the "public interest test" available here. This details exactly how the test should be carried out and states:

The public interest test entails a public authority deciding whether, in relation to a request for information, it serves the interests of the public either to disclose the information or to maintain an exemption or exception in respect of the information requested. To reach a decision, a public authority must carefully balance opposing factors, based on the particular circumstances of the case. Where the factors are equally balanced, the information must be disclosed.
Well it was unclear how they could have done this especially as not only was the basis of this decision not disclosed to me in the decision letter but the person who made the decision told me she was "unfamiliar" with the library consultation and did not even know the date the consultation ended.

It turns out this was wrong as well. There is also guidance on issuing a refusal notice available from the ICO here . This states:
If the applied exemption is a qualified one to which the public interest test applies, the authority must assess whether: “in all circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information” and must state its detailed reasoning in the refusal notice.
So it turns out that I wasn't being unreasonable and annoying. The County Council were acting unlawfully in handling my request. I am awaiting a review of the decision. And an apology would be nice too.....


The public interest test has now been sent to me and is now on Wikisuffolk. The PDF file metadata says it was created this morning but it is not clear if it was actually written earlier of if it was created "after the fact".

I don't think this test has been done properly as it does not state the arguments in favour and then against release and balance them off against each other.

I didn't get an apology but it was suggested to me that I might be an "unreasonable complainant" and a link to a policy about dealing with such people sent to me!!
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