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‘Daft’ FoI requests can be ignored
Thursday 05 April 2012 by Michael Cross
Public bodies can safely ignore requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) for their plans to deal with zombie invasions. Graham Smith, deputy information commissioner, told the Solicitors in Local Government annual weekend school last week that ‘silly and daft’ requests would be covered by existing guidance on vexatious requests.
However, he said the information commissioner would support moves to introduce a specific exemption for frivolous requests.
Despite the assurance, Smith warned that the volume of FoI requests would continue to increase. Ironically, one cause was the government’s transparency agenda: the requirement to publish all items of spending over £500 ‘just puts things out there that cause people to ask questions’, he said. ‘I can’t see that changing.’
‘The clear challenge is that the number of requests is going to go up and up, often building on information that is already in the public domain.’
The conference heard concerns about a flood of requests from pressure groups for information on housing repair. Smith said the information commissioner’s office is ‘not sympathetic to fishing expeditions where people are using FoI to start off civil litigation or to subvert civil litigation’.
Bernadette Livesey, director of legal and democratic services at Wakefield Council, warned of the implications of an Information Tribunal decision on the disclosure of council officers’ membership of churches and golf clubs. While the tribunal had ruled for the authority in the case of Greenwood v Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council, its reasoning ‘worried me’, she said.
However, Wakefield had no problem in answering a request about zombie invasions. ‘We were able to reply truthfully that we had no information,’ Livesey said.
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