Local Government Employee Fined For Illegally Deleting Item Requested Under Freedom Of Information Act

from the it-may-be-small,-but-it's-still-a-win dept

Techdirt writes about freedom of information matters often enough. Sadly, many of the stories are about governments and other official bodies refusing to comply with local Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws for various reasons, and using a variety of tricks. In other words, rights to FOI may exist in theory, but the practice falls woefully short. That makes the following story from the UK a welcome exception.

It concerns Nicola Young, a local government employee in the English market town of Whitchurch, in Shropshire. Part of her job as town clerk was to handle FOIA requests for the local council. One such request asked for a copy of the audio recording of a council meeting. Apparently the person requesting the file believed that the written minutes of the meeting had been fabricated, and wanted to check them against the recording. However, the reply came back that the file had already been deleted, as was required by the official council policy.

Undeterred, the person requesting the file sent a complaint to the UK's main Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which carried out an investigation. The ICO discovered that the town clerk had not only claimed that the audio file had already been deleted when it actually existed, but that she personally deleted it a few days after the FOI request was made. Quite why is not clear, but as a result:

On Wednesday 11 March, Young, of Shrewsbury Street, Whitchurch, Shropshire, was convicted at Crewe Magistrates after pleading guilty to blocking records with the intention of preventing disclosure and was fined £400 [about $490], ordered to pay costs of £1,493 [$1,835] and a victim surcharge £40 [$50].

In its press release on the case, the ICO comments that it "marks the first ever successful conviction under the [UK's] FOIA.". It may be a small victory, but we'll take it.

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Filed Under: foia, nicola young, record destruction, uk

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  1. icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 19 Mar 2020 @ 11:22pm

    Re: Re:

    the District does not couch for or otherwise guarantee that the document is what it purports to be

    The problem with that is the risk. If the whistle-blower finds out that he got a fake document instead of the requested public record, then the district has failed to respond to the public records request by producing either the requested material or a statutory claim of exemption.

    If they get sued for failure to produce, they not only lose but also look very bad. The judge might even enjoy applying the statutory fee-shifting provision. Much depends on the judge, however, because there are many who are mere respecters of persons.

    It does help if your request is properly addressed to the records custodian and clearly specifies the records to be produced. I have a request form I normally use; it tracks the paper forms provided by Big Jim (Clayton), a giant of open government who is still missed after all these years. Yes, that [Clayton v. Regents, 635 So.2d 937; Clayton v. School Board, 696 So.2d 1215] James Clayton.

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