November 7th, 2011

Readers with an eye on the correct application of section 14 of FOIA – vexatious requests – will be familiar with the ICO’s guidance on and approach to deciding whether a request meets that definition. The touchstones are obsessiveness, imposing a significant burden, lacking a serious purpose and/or causing distress, disruption or annoyance. The Tribunal has on many occasions approved those touchstones as being useful guidance. Two very recent decisions, however, have seen the Tribunal preferring to emphase a common-sense and dictionary-led approach in preference to a checklist of tests: see Graham v IC (EA/2011/0133-34) and Ainslie v IC and Dorset County Council (EA/2011/0097).

This fresh emphasis is encapsulated in the following words of the Tribunal:

“While the Information Commissioner may have developed his own guidance with respect to this matter; from the perspective of the tribunal the common sense application of the ordinary meaning of the word to the actual circumstances of an individual case must be the correct approach to adopt. The Oxford English dictionary provides useful guidance as to the meanings of vexatious and associated words. While this guidance extends over several columns it seems to the tribunal that a definition of “tending to cause trouble or harassment by unjustified interference” fairly summarises the meaning.”

Robin Hopkins

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