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 @ 4:46am

    Here in Florida, we have what is considered a leading public records law [Ch. 119, also Constitution A1S24(a)], though over the years it has suffered death by over a thousand cuts. There are now approximately 1500 exemptions scattered throughout the statutes, some of which may pass constitutional muster.

    There is a provision for fees for requests which must be litigated. However, the cost to litigate validity of exemptions is shifted onto the requestor.

    With that in mind, and remembering that this was a reaction to the abuses of the "pork chop" era first enacted in 1967, there have been stunningly few prosecutions under the criminal provisions. There may be a total of one, at least that went up on appeal: State v. Webb, 768 So.2d 602 (1DCA 2001).


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