PL&B FOI E-news, Issue 37

1. Companies’ details in Employment Tribunal cases to be made public

The ICO has ruled that the names and addresses of organisations involved in Employment Tribunal cases must be made public. This FOI decision from 14 October goes against the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR).

BERR suggested that publishing names would leave organisations open to direct marketing; expose the existence of disputes publicly and reduce the chance of informally resolving them; and could leave respondents at risk of unwarranted damage to their reputation.

The Deputy Information Commissioner, Graham Smith, concluded that BERR was justified in relying on section 36 (conduct of public affairs) but that ‘there is a very weak – if any – public interest in maintaining the exemption.’ Employment Tribunals are open to the public and details of cases are normally in the public domain unless there is a good reason for confidentiality.

A register with organisations’ names and addresses was routinely published between 1965-2001. Now these details may be routinely published once again.

See the decision notice.

2. Information Tribunal now has searchable database

The Information Tribunal has launched a new service which enables anyone interested to according to jurisdictional area, subject, sub-subject, appeal number, party or date.

3. Still no proposal on how to extend FOI

Norman Baker, MP, asked the Secretary of State for Justice on 21 October ‘what progress he is making in his consideration of the extension of the applicability of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to include private companies delivering public services, with specific reference to the transport sector.’

Mr. Straw replied by saying that ‘the Government are continuing to assess the issues relating to designating additional public authorities under the Act; this includes bodies in the transport sector. We will publish our response in due course.’

The consultation on Designation of additional public authorities closed on 1 February 2008.

Privacy Laws & Business’s response to the consultation is on the PL&B website.

4. Most people now aware of their information rights

Information Rights Tracker Survey, based on research carried out in June 2008 for the Ministry of Justice, reveals that 83% of those interviewed know that they have a legal right to gain access to information about the work of a public authority.

More people are aware of the Data Protection Act than the FOI Act. Respondents tend to disagree that public authorities are open and trustworthy, but tend to agree that public authorities are becoming more open. The majority of respondents think that public authorities can be held to account because of the right to get information from them.

The survey was published on 18 September

5. FOI training in Scotland

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland is running a half-day course in Glasgow on 10 November and Aberdeen on 11 November 2008 on the Scottish Information Commissioner’s Decisions. The course, which is aimed at those with a good working knowledge of the legislation, highlights key developments in the way the main exemptions, the public interest test and the legislation's procedural requirements are being interpreted. The courses will be presented by the Campaign's director, Maurice Frankel.

To register, visit

6. Scotland looks into civil society uptake of FOI

The Scottish Information Commissioner and the University of Strathclyde have launched a major new research project to explore the apparent low use of freedom of information (FOI) rights by Scotland’s campaign groups and voluntary organisations. Only 4% of all the appeals received by the Scottish Information Commissioner came from voluntary and campaign organisations

The study, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will explore the reasons for this apparent low usage, while also mapping FOI-use within the sector and examining how FOI fits within wider organisational priorities. It will be carried out over three years by Kate Spence, a doctoral researcher at the University of Strathclyde.

Announcing the launch, Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner, said:

“Freedom of information rights are being actively used by the public to access information on the issues that affect their day-to-day lives. It was assumed before the Act came into effect that it would also be heavily used by voluntary and campaigning organisations. In practice the uptake by civil society groups appears to be surprisingly low. This research will help us to better understand the reasons for this and to address any factors which may have inhibited the use of FOI rights.”

The research was launched on 28 September.

7. Collection of FOI articles published

A new report by the Campaign for Freedom of Information summarises more than 1,000 press stories based on disclosures under the UK and Scottish FOI acts in 2006 and 2007. The stories demonstrate the enormous range of information being released under FOI and reveal the substantial contribution to accountability made by the acts.

For further details on the Privacy Laws & Business UK Newsletter, please click here.

Copyright Privacy Laws & Business 2008