Supreme Court orders Scottish council pay data to be released

A Supreme Court judgement of 29 July relating to information about South Lanarkshire Council's staff pay structure deals with the relationship between the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Data Protection Act. The court ruled that the requested information about the number (but not the identity) of employees in a particular post at particular points on the Council’s pay scales must be released. The requester’s purpose was to investigate whether the pay gradings favoured work traditionally done by men.

The Council refused the request on the ground that it would contravene the Data Protection Act. The Scottish Information Commissioner held that the Council should disclose the information as the identity of the employees would not be revealed. The Supreme Court upheld this position.

On the question whether the processing of the personal data was ‘necessary’, the court said that it was well established in European Community law that, in the context of justification, ‘necessary’ meant ‘reasonably’ rather than absolutely or strictly necessary.

The Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew said: "I am pleased that the ruling by the Supreme Court supports our own carefully considered conclusions on this case. While the relationship between FOI and data protection law can be complex, the Supreme Court's ruling confirms the robustness of our approach and is a clear guide to how similar cases should be handled by Scottish public authorities.”

The judgement is summarised and is published in full.