February 21st, 2012 by Robin Hopkins

A quick update on today’s main FOI development: in May 2011, the Court of Appeal heard the case of Kennedy v IC [2011] EWCA Civ 367 (see the backstory here). It remitted the matter to the First-Tribunal to answer this question:

“Whether s.  32(2) of FOIA should in the circumstances be read down pursuant to s. 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and Article 10 of the ECHR, so that the exemption that it provides from disclosure of information ends upon the termination of the relevant statutory inquiry.”

In its “report” to the Court of Appeal in November 2011, the FTT answered yes to the above question (see here).

The matter returned to the Court of Appeal today. The Court decided that last week’s Supreme Court judgment in Sugar v BBC [2012] UKSC4 (analysed here) was determinative on the Article 10 point. It found for the Respondents, but gave leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. The Kennedy matter may therefore not yet have run its course.

No judgment from the Court of Appeal just yet – analysis to follow on Panopticon as soon as the judgment is available.

Robin Hopkins


February 10th, 2012 by Robin Hopkins

BNP leader Nick Griffin was convicted in 1998 for publishing material likely to stir up racial hatred. In 2009, Ian Cobain, an investigative journalist at The Guardian, requested sight of all Crown Prosecution Service papers relating to that prosecution. The Commissioner upheld its refusal. In Cobain v IC and Crown Prosecution Service (EA/2011/0112 & 0113), the Tribunal considered 3 exemptions, namely ss. 40(2), 32(1) and 30(1) of FOIA. For the most part, Mr Cobain’s arguments prevailed.

The decision is notable – indeed, essential reading – for a number of its key points. For example: when it comes to journalists requesting sensitive personal data, FOIA is not “applicant blind”. More generally, the decision affirms the importance of FOIA in facilitating investigative journalism. The approach to Article 10 ECHR from the Kennedy “report” is boldly affirmed. General guidance on s. 30(1) is set out. I’ll look at the key points from each exemption in turn. The decision is worth quoting in some detail.

Section 40(2) (personal data)

A number of important points emerge. First, in general, just because information emerged during evidence in a public trial, this does not mean it should automatically be disclosed under FOIA:

“Much of the information… was freely publicised at the trial in 1998… Where the public interest is engaged (as here where s. 30(1)(c) is invoked) it does not by any means automatically follow that such publication in the past determines the question of disclosure today. Most witnesses are entitled to expect that their exposure to public scrutiny ends with the conclusion of their evidence. Those who make statements do so in the expectation that, if not used at trial, they will not surface later.”

Secondly, just because information is in a prosecution file, it does not follow that it is necessarily personal data. The Commissioner was criticised for insufficiently granular analysis:

“It was clear that the broad and unparticularised approach adopted in the First Decision Notice could not be upheld. The fact that it is information held in a file assembled for the purposes of criminal proceedings against Mr. Griffin (see DPA s.2(g)) does not make it sensitive personal data, unless it is personal data in the first place.”

Some of the disputed information was therefore outside s. 40(2) because it was not personal data in the first place. Other information, however, was sensitive personal data. This meant that not only would the usual conditions need to be met (fairness, lawfulness, condition 6(1)) but a Schedule 3 condition was also mandatory. Those can be difficult to meet – unless you are a journalist. Condition 10 triggers the Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000. This contains particular “lawful processing” conditions for the purposes of, among other things, journalism: see article 3 of the Order, which also imposes other conditions such as the disclosure being in the “substantial public interest” and “in connection with” issues such as “the commission of an unlawful act”. Paragraphs 31-33 of the Tribunal’s decision contain a useful summary of how the relevant provisions work.

This “journalist’s route” (my term, rather than the Tribunal’s) to obtaining sensitive personal data has been considered in a number of Tribunal decisions. In this case, it was given full effect:

 “Disclosure of the sensitive data would be “in connection with” the commission of an unlawful act (hence the conviction), seriously improper conduct and arguably Mr. Griffin`s unfitness for political office. It would be for the purpose of journalism, Mr. Cobain`s occupation, and would be intended for publication in his newspaper and possibly thereafter, in a book. Given the issues involved, namely racial and/or religious hatred and the right to express even extreme views, we find that disclosure would be in the substantial public interest. We do not consider that the passage of eleven years before the request renders disclosure unfair, or unwarranted by reason of prejudice to Mr. Griffin`s interests nor likely to cause substantial damage or distress to him. In making that judgement we have regard to Mr. Griffin`s age ( 50 at the date of the request, 39 at the date of trial), his continuing political prominence and his apparent claim to be an educated, reasonable and responsible MEP and party leader who has rejected any racial extremism formerly associated with his party.”

How does this “journalist’s route” square with the usual “applicant blindness” FOIA principle? The ICO argued that the latter prevails, such that the former only applies to pure DPA cases, not to FOIA ones. It emphasized the wording of s. 40(3)(a): disclosure to “a member of the public otherwise than under [FOIA]”. It argued that the average member of the public is the reference point for a FOIA disclosure. The average member of the public is not a journalist. The “journalist’s route” therefore has no place in FOIA.

The Tribunal disagreed (as the First-Tier Tribunal has done on a number of occasions now). It relied on the Upper Tribunal’s judgment in the APPGER case on this point, and said that:

 “… a requester who fulfils one or more of the schedule conditions is also a member of the public ( and is not the data processor ) who is receiving the information under FOIA. If this were not so, FOIA would be a valueless tool for the serious researcher, journalist, writer, politician or scholar seeking to investigate serious wrongdoing within the preceding thirty years. If that were the case, it would be reasonable to ask whether FOIA was worth enactment.”

The effect in this case was that s. 40(2) did not apply at all.

Section 32 (court records)

Next, the CPS relied on s. 32, the ambiguous wording of which has opened the door for Article 10 ECHR arguments: see the Kennedy v Charity litigation (Panopticon passim) in which the First-Tier Tribunal’s “report” on the application and effect of Article 10 on s. 32 will be considered by the Court of Appeal later this month. The Tribunal in Cobain wholeheartedly adopted the Kennedy report:

“We adopt with gratitude and respect the very careful reasoning of the report on this issue, which we believe accurately states the law as to Article 10 as recently developed… We do not doubt that s. 32(1) can be read down in a way which is consistent with Article 10. We consider that limiting the restriction in [s. 32(1)] so that it ends once a reasonable time has elapsed after the exhaustion or evident abandonment of the available appeal process would avoid a breach of Article 10.”

Consequently, s. 32 was not available as a ground for refusal in this case.

The Article 10 issue is obviously of enormous importance to the interpretation of FOIA – particularly, but not exclusively for journalists. As things stand, the role of Article 10 is uncertain. At least two other First-Tier Tribunals have heard or will hear argument on it this month (in the contexts of ss. 23, 40(2) and 41); the Court of Appeal will consider it in two cases this month, and the Supreme Court gives judgment in Sugar v BBC next week. Watch this space.

Section 30(1) (investigations)

In the context of this case, this exemption was “unarguably” engaged. The Tribunal made the following observations about the public interest in maintaining this exemption:

“The Tribunal acknowledges the substantial public interest in many circumstances in protecting from disclosure information gathered for the purposes of a criminal case, including the need to offer informants and witnesses protection from public exposure and a prosecuting authority a proper space in which to discuss and decide issues that arise.”

As against that, it said this about the public interest in disclosure:

“On the other hand, the public has a legitimate interest in criminal investigations and resulting court proceedings, especially where the defendant was a prominent political figure charged with an offence of great current importance in proceedings that he was keen to publicise. The passage of time is also a consideration. Legitimate public interest in such a case continues due to the profile of the defendant but the risk of any impact on the resulting proceedings disappeared long ago. More importantly, the relevant information in this appeal does not include statements from potentially vulnerable witnesses or highly sensitive material”.

The Tribunal therefore concluded that, in general, the public interest favoured the disclosure of the disputed information in this case, except for three categories which could properly be withheld.

On s. 30(1), this decision is a useful summary of the most relevant considerations. It is on ss. 40(2) and Article 10, however, that it has given a fresh boost to requesters.

Robin Hopkins


November 30th, 2011 by Robin Hopkins

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to freedom of expression – has begun to make its presence felt in FOIA and EIR case law. For example, I have recently reported on Sinclair v IC and Department for Energy and Climate Change (EA/2011/0052), in which Article 10 was raised in the context of exceptions under the EIR, but was held not to make a difference. In particular, the First-Tier Tribunal in that case took the view that there was as yet no clear and consistent Strasbourg jurisprudence supporting Mr Sinclair’s reliance upon Article 10.

A differently constituted First-Tier Tribunal (FTT) has taken the opposite view. Readers may recall the unusual twist to the Court of Appeal’s decision of May this year in Kennedy v IC and Charity Commission [2011] EWCA Civ 367: Mr Kennedy requested information concerning the Charity Commission’s inquiry into the Mariam Appeal (founder: George Galloway). The CC refused, relying on the absolute exemption at s. 32(2) FOIA, which applies to documents created or held for the purposes of an inquiry or investigation. The crucial question of construction was this: does the exemption apply to past/closed investigations, or only to current/live ones? The Court of Appeal favoured the former, broader interpretation on conventional construction grounds, but was then persuaded that, given the ambiguity of the statutory language, Article 10 ECHR may have a bearing. It stayed the Court of Appeal proceedings and remitted the following question to the FTT for determination:

“Whether s.  32(2) of FOIA should in the circumstances be read down pursuant to s. 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and Article 10 of the ECHR, so that the exemption that it provides from disclosure of information ends upon the termination of the relevant statutory inquiry.”

Although it admitted to finding this a “daunting task”, involving “extremely complex analysis of human rights law more suited to higher courts”, the FTT has answered yes to the above question. This is not an FTT decision in the usual sense. Rather, the FTT’s recent determination in Kennedy v Charity Commission (EA/2008/008) is a (perhaps) unprecedented legal specimen, namely a “report to the Court of Appeal”.

The FTT began its report by noting the case law on the importance of the media in a modern democracy.

It then considered the crucial issue of whether Article created a general right to receive information from public authorities. The task for a domestic court (see Ambrose v Harris of 2011, per Lord Hope) is to “identify “as best it can where the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg court clearly shows that it stands on the issue.”

By way of simplified synopsis of the FTT’s survey of Strasbourg jurisprudence on whether Article 10 creates a general right of access to receive information: a number of Strasbourg authorities – Leander v Sweden, Gaskin v UK, Guerra v Italy, Roche v UK – have said no. In other more recent cases – Társaság v Hungary, Kenedi v Hungary – the court appears to have said yes. In the FTT’s view, recent Court of Appeal decisions in the UK – A v Independent News & Media, BBC v Sugar (No 2) – suggest that the latter has crystallised into a new Strasbourg stance, and the recent Divisional Court decision in R(Guardian News & Media) v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court did not cast doubt on that general drift.

The FTT summed up its conclusions thus:

“As best we can the FTT considers that this developing jurisprudence is not necessarily granting a general right to receive information under Article 10. Such a general right of access still only exists as set out under Leander. It has advanced, however, towards a broader interpretation of the notion of freedom of information which has recognised an individual right of access conferred by Article 10(1) but which is subject to certain “formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties” described in Article 10(2). This may be where a social watchdog is involved and there is a genuine public interest as in Társaság or where historical research is being hindered on a matter of public importance as in Kenedi. It appears to us that this extension of scope of Article 10(1) is now being consistently applied and recognised by a number of chambers of the ECtHR. Our Court of Appeal has also recognised this as a clear development. In our view this has not led to a general right to receive information as that would be going too far. However it is now clear that the ECtHR has developed a wider approach from that first established in 1978 to the notion of “freedom to receive information”. There is now recognition of an individual right of access to information in certain circumstances.”

The FTT did not decide whether or not a prerequisite for Article 10 is the public authority’s having a “monopoly” over that information – the CC had such a monopoly in these circumstances in any event.

As Mr Kennedy represented a “social watchdog”, his right under Article 10(1) was engaged, and the absolute exemption at s. 32(2) (if interpreted to extend beyond the duration of the inquiry) was an interference with that right.

The FTT also decided that this interference could not be justified in these circumstances. Although the exemption pursued a legitimate aim, it was a disproportionate interference. It observed that where a social watchdog is involved, any balancing of interests is more likely to weigh in favour of individual rights. It expressly rejected the proposition that this outcome could only arise where applicants are journalists.

Finally, the FTT decided that this unjustified interference was to be remedied by the following interpretation: “by limiting s 32(2) to documents held by inquiries that have not concluded, Mr Kennedy’s Article 10 rights will not be interfered with in a disproportionate way”.

What now? The hearing will be resumed in the Court of Appeal, which will have the benefit of the FTT’s report. Panopticon can also confirm that there a number of other cases dealing with other absolute exemptions currently in the court and tribunal systems which will consider the application of Article 10. The FTT’s “report” in Kennedy therefore does not represent a settled position. It is, however, a very interesting twist.

Rachel Kamm appeared for the Charity Commission in the FTT.

Robin Hopkins


May 19th, 2011 by Robin Hopkins

In Kennedy v IC and Charity Commission [2011] EWCA Civ 367, the Court of Appeal has referred back to the Information Tribunal the issue of whether s.32(2) FOIA should be “read down” (i.e. in favour of requesters) to give effect to Article 10 of the ECHR.

Ward LJ’s judgment begins like this:

“Mr George Galloway attracts attention”.

It goes on to explain that, between 1998 and 2003, Mr Galloway launched and ran the “Mariam Appeal”. This aimed to provide medical assistance in Iraq. It raised funds of nearly £1.5 million. The sources of and uses to which these funds were put generated some controversy. Investigations into the Mariam Appeal by the appellant journalist gave rise to an inquiry by the Charity Commission, which concluded in 2007. Shortly afterwards, the appellant requested information about this inquiry.

The Charity Commission refused, relying on the absolute exemption at s. 32(2) FOIA, which provides as follows (note its punctuation and structure – in particular how the commas and the use of “or” affects the flow and meaning of the section):

 Information held by a public authority is exempt information if it is held only by virtue of being contained in—

(a)any document placed in the custody of a person conducting an inquiry or arbitration, for the purposes of the inquiry or arbitration, or

(b)any document created by a person conducting an inquiry or arbitration, for the purposes of the inquiry or arbitration.

The Information Commissioner, Tribunal and High Court were broadly in agreement with the Charity Commission’s stance. The issue for the Court of Appeal was whether this exemption subsists only for the duration of the inquiry or whether it continues after the inquiry has concluded. In particular, the “troublesome issue” was whether the phrase “for the purposes of the inquiry or arbitration” relates to and qualifies (i) the reason for placing the document in the custody of the person, or (ii) the reason why the document is being held by the public authority. The latter construction favoured the Appellant’s case, but the Information Tribunal opted for the former construction.

Ward LJ held that the issue was “at least ambiguous if not in favour of the appellant. The grammar certainly does not provide a clear cut answer”. He therefore took a purposive approach. Here a number of factors militated against the construction for which the appellant argued:

  • It would produce a surprising discontinuity with s. 32(1) (the “court records” exemption).
  • It would render otiose s. 63(1) (which nullifies s. 32 once a document reaches the age 30 years).
  • S. 18(3) of the Inquiries Act 2005 could only be construed as amending s. 32(2) – otherwise there would have been no need to pass s. 18(3), which provides that

 “Section 32(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (c. 36) (certain inquiry records etc exempt from obligations under that Act) does not apply in relation to information contained in documents that, in pursuance of rules under section 41(1)(b) below, have been passed to and are held by a public authority.”

Ward LJ concluded that he could not “extract a clear and certain meaning” of s. 32(2). It was “at least susceptible” to the appellant’s construction, but on the ordinary principles of construction the appeal would have been dismissed.

At a late stage, however (in fact, once the parties had received the draft of the original judgment dismissing the appeal) the appellant contended that – given the finding of ambiguity – s. 32(2) had to be read so as to comply with Article 10 of the ECHR. The Court of Appeal decided that this was an important point, which the present case was ideally suited to answer. On this issue, therefore, the case is being remitted to the Information Tribunal.

Robin Hopkins

Disclosing Court Records under FOIA

June 16th, 2009 by Anya Proops

The Tribunal has recently handed down a decision in which it reached a number of important conclusions on the application of s. 32 FOIA (the courts records exemption) – Dominic Kennedy v IC & Charity Commissioners (EA/2008/0083). The appeal was concerned with a request which had been made to the Charity Commissioners for disclosure of information as to its inquiry into ‘the Mariam Appeal’. The appeal had been set up by George Galloway MP and its purposes were stated to include providing medical support to the Iraqi people. The Charity Commissioners refused disclosure of the requested information on the basis that it amounted to a court record and, hence, was absolutely exempt from disclosure under s. 32 FOIA.


The first issue which the Tribunal was called upon to determine was whether the word ‘document’ as it appears in s. 32 included electronic documents or merely hard copy documents. This was an issue in the appeal because, in contrast with all other exemptions, s. 32 focuses on information contained in ‘documents’. The Tribunal decided that the word ‘documents’ as it appears in s. 32 should be given an expansive interpretation so as to include both electronic documents and hard copy documents, not least because this is the result which Parliament must plainly have intended in enacting s. 32 (paras. 58-60). The Tribunal also held that s. 32 can apply, not merely to records relating to on-going inquiries, but also to inquiries that are closed (paras. 86-92).


In the course of its decision, the Tribunal accepted that it was giving s. 32 ‘a very wide scope’, which contrasted with the approach taken by the Tribunals to other exemptions in FOIA. However, it concluded that this was the required result given the need to respect the autonomy of the courts and those bodies which conduct statutory inquiries and arbitrations (para. 92).


The Tribunal went on to find that the general implications of its findings were that


a) If after a court decision or an inquiry closes then anyone can ask for the leave of the court or person conducting the inquiry for documents and the judge or authority can consider this but outside the realms of FOIA. Courts have rules for this and government inquiries also envisage similar rules. Therefore we would recommend that the Charity Commission considers adopting such rules; and


b) If documents are provided by other public authorities then a person can always make an FOIA request to them and they would not be able to rely on s.32(2)’ (para. 95)


The approach adopted by the Tribunal was consistent with the approach adopted in the earlier case of Szucs v Information Commissioner (EA/2007/0075). 11KBW’s Clive Sheldon appeared on behalf of the Commissioner in Kennedy.