Exempt Information

The FOI Act recognises that there are valid reasons for withholding some information in response to a request.  For a public authority to withhold information requested under the act at least one of the two categories of exemption must apply:

Absolute Exemptions

These exemptions are unconditional, examples include:
  • Information accessible by other means
  • Information provided to the Council in confidence
Qualified Exemptions
These exemptions are subject to a public interest test. In these cases the Authority will look at whether the balance of public interest is weighted in favour of publishing the information requested. Where this is found to be the case the information requested will be provided to the applicant.
There are 24 qualified exemptions under the Act including:
  • Commercially sensitive information.
  • Information that would prejudice the health and safety of an individual.
  • Personal information relating to individuals (this is covered by the Data Protection Act 1998).
  • Information about the environment (this can be accessed under the Environmental Information Regulations).
  • Where release of information will be damaging to individuals or to businesses.
  • Where the health and safety of individuals or communities may be compromised.
  • Where release of information may prejudice a future decision .
When required the Authority will make a decision on whether an exemption applies to all or part of an information request through a panel of trained Officers.
 
Further information
A full list of exemptions, together with guidance notes, is published by the Ministry of Justice.
Under FOI legislation all public authorities must have a publication scheme, this details information that is routinely made available by the Authority and whether there is a charge for this information.
 
Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs 2004)
The EIRs specify exceptions where a public authority is not obliged to disclose information.  However, unlike FOI there are no absolute exceptions – all of the exceptions under the EIRs are subject to the public interest test. If it is in the public interest to release the information then we will do so. If a decision is taken to withhold information, we must state which exception we are using and all arguments behind the decision.
 
Exceptions under the EIRs include:
  • if the information constitutes personal data
  • the information is not held when the request is received
  • the request is manifestly unreasonable
  • the request relates to material which is still in the course of completion, to unfinished documents or to incomplete data;
  • the request involves the disclosure of internal communications.
 
Other examples of exceptions include cases where Environmental Information would also not be disclosed if its release would adversely affect:
  • international relations, defence, national security or public safety;
  • the course of justice or the ability of a public authority to conduct an inquiry of a criminal or disciplinary nature;
  • intellectual property rights;
  • the confidentiality of the proceedings of that or any other public authority where such confidentiality is provided by law;
  • the confidentiality of commercial or industrial information where such confidentiality is provided by law to protect a legitimate economic interest;
  • the protection of the environment to which the information relates.
 
Further information can be obtained from the Department of the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

 

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