The Registrar Professor Ewan McKendrick
University Offices, Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2JD
Tel: +44 (0)1865 270232 Fax: +44 (0)1865 270085
Email: [email address] Web: www.ox.ac.uk
Mr David Holland
16 March 2011
Dear Mr Holland,
Review of response to request for information relating to IPCC Lead Authors under the
Freedom of Information Act/Environmental Information Regulations
I am writing to inform you of the outcome of my review of the University’s response to your
request for information of 30 November 2010, which you asked me to review in an e-mail dated
14 January 2011. I apologise for the delay.
Before discussing the internal review, I should inform you that Dr Frame has very recently
forwarded to the University’s Freedom of Information Officer a large number of e-mails relating
to his work as a Lead Author for the IPCC’s Assessment Report No.5 (AR5) that the officer had
not previously seen. We will need to review this material in relation to your request, in particular,
parts 2 and 3, and come to a view on whether to disclose it, consulting, where necessary, with
the IPCC. The University’s Freedom of Information Officer will write to inform you of the results
of our consideration of this ‘new’ material, and, should you be dissatisfied with that response,
you would be entitled to request an internal review in relation to it. However, in order to avoid
further delay, I have continued to carry out the internal review that you previously requested,
based on the material supplied by Dr Frame before his most recent communication with the
University’s Freedom of Information Officer.
In conducting this review, I have examined the following correspondence:
your original request for information, dated 30 November 2010;
the University’s first (interim) response, dated 22 December 2010;
a letter from Dr Thomas Stocker, Co-Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group 1 (WG1), dated
22 December 2010;
your comments on the University’s first response, dated 24 December 2010;
the University’s second response, dated 10 January 2011; and
your request for an internal review, dated 14 January 2011.
I will address each part of your request in turn, in the order in which they appear in your e-mail
of 30 November 2010.
1. Please give me copies of any agreements entered into by the University with the IPCC itself
or Working Group One or any other party limiting the disclosure of information regarding the
assessment of climate change by the IPCC or WGI.
I consider that the University’s response is consistent with its obligations under the Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR). The University, as
an institution and legal entity, has not entered into any agreements of the type described in your
request. As the information does not exist, the University cannot provide it to you: it is not ‘held’
under the FOIA or EIR.
I have, as you requested, looked at Clause 46 of the Code of Practice on the EIR. Clause 46
stipulates that public authorities should not include in their contracts ‘any terms that purport to
restrict the disclosure of environmental information held by the authority and relating to the
contract beyond the restrictions permitted by the EIR
’. This is not relevant to your request,
because, as already indicated, the University has not entered into any agreement of the sort
specified in your request.
You have suggested that the University’s response to part 1 of your request is contradicted by,
or at least inconsistent with, its response to part 2, which indicated that Dr David Frame had
received three documents from WG1, including one on the subject of confidentiality. I assume
this is the one you are referring to when you state that Dr Frame has received a document that
‘purports to impose very strict confidentiality conditions of information being received by the
…’. If it is your contention that Dr Frame’s receipt of this e-mail amounts to an
agreement signed by the University, I would disagree. The e-mail was not an ‘agreement
entered into by the University with the IPCC or Working Group One’ but simply an e-mail
received by Dr Frame in his role as a Lead Author for AR5. The document on confidentiality is
on the WG1 website1 2. Please give me copies of any correspondence received by Dr Frame from the IPCC, Working
Group One or any source purporting to impose restrictions upon the disclosure of any
information relating to the IPCC AR5.
The University has disclosed three documents sent to Dr Frame by WG1: ‘Working Group 1
Media Strategy for Lead Author Meetings’ and guidance notes on ‘Confidentiality’ and
‘Communicating with the Media and Public’. As indicated above, we will examine the additional
material recently forwarded to the Freedom of Information Officer by Dr Frame in relation to this
part of your request and inform you of the results of this process as soon as we can. 3. Please send me copies of any other correspondence to or from Dr Frame not covered in 1 or
2 above which is in relation to the IPCC AR5.
You appear to suggest that the exemptions in sections 27(1)(b), 27(2) and 27(3) of the FOIA
and the exception in regulation 12(5)(a) of the EIR – which all concern international relations -
do not apply, because WG1 is not a permanent international organisation but an ‘ad-hoc
temporary group of public employees
The IPCC website indicates that WG1 is part of the IPCC, and that Dr Stocker is a Co-Chair of
WG11. Dr Stocker’s letter to the University of 22 December 2010 has an IPCC letterhead. The
IPCC meets the definition of an ‘international organisation’ in section 27(5) of the FOIA in that it
is an international organisation ‘whose members include any two or more States
’. WG1 is also
covered, since the definition includes ‘any organ of such an organisation
’. Dr Stocker’s letter
states clearly that WG1 objects to the release of the information that it sent to Dr Frame that
relates to the development of the content of AR5 or the resources provided by WG1 to enable
Lead Authors and others to communicate with each other during the drafting process. It also
regards such material as confidential.
In the light of the above, I am satisfied that the views expressed by Dr Stocker represent the
views of an ‘international organisation’, and that the FOIA exemptions and the EIR exception
referred to above, relating to international relations, are engaged.
You have also argued that there can be no claim to confidentiality because the principles
governing the work of the IPCC do not allow for confidentiality. I have two comments on this.
First, it is for the IPCC, not the University, to interpret its principles, and to decide how they
should be applied to its work. Second, the University has also applied exceptions in the EIR that
do not depend upon a claim of confidentiality, namely, regulations 12(4)(d) and 12(5)(f)(iii).
You have not commented directly on the University’s application of the public interest test.
However, I interpret your contention that there can be no valid claim of confidentiality as an
indirect challenge to the arguments put forward by the University in this regard. The University
considered that the general public interest in transparency would largely be met by publication
of the final results of the AR5, including the comments of the Expert Reviewers and the
responses of Lead Authors to those comments. It considered that the public interest in the
disclosure of information that constitutes ‘work in progress’ was outweighed by the public
interest in ensuring that the scientists involved in the preparation of AR5 should be able to carry
out their work without the inhibiting effect of on-going publicity. This seems to me to be a
reasonable and balanced conclusion. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) recognises
that those involved in decision-making need to be able to express their views openly and
honestly, and that the disclosure of information that reveals internal-thought processes may be
detrimental to the quality of the decisions taken.2
As is the case with part 2, we will examine the additional material recently forwarded to the
Freedom of Information Officer by Dr Frame in relation to part 3 of your request and inform you
of the results of this process as soon as we can. 4. Please let me know what plans the University has to comply with EIR r.4 in relation to the
IPCC AR5.n relation to I have decided to uphold the University’s original response, and the
reasons for this are explained below.
The results of research relevant to issues covered by AR5 will be published in academic
journals, as and when the research is completed. Where the research is likely to be of interest
to the public, the information may be signposted on the University website, so as to make it
easily accessible, in accordance with EIR 4(1)(a). A recent example can be found here:
Some Oxford researchers are lead
authors or reviewers for specific parts of AR5. Their contributions will be reflected in the final
reports published on the IPCC website.
You have also disputed the University’s argument that Dr Frame’s work as a Lead Author for
AR5 falls outside his duties as an employee of the University and that this therefore calls into
question whether the information requested is held by the University for the purpose of either
FOIA or EIR. The University has not relied on this argument; it has responded to your request
on the assumption that it can be deemed to hold the information under FOIA or EIR. However, it
has reserved its right to raise this matter with the ICO. Dr Frame’s role as Lead Author does not
form part of his official duties, and the question therefore arises as to whether this affects the
application of the FOIA or EIR to any information he holds relating to that role.
It is, of course, open to you to apply to the Information Commissioner for a decision as to
whether your request for information has been handled in accordance with the Act. You can
contact the Information Commissioner at the following address:
Further information on your right of appeal to the Information Commissioner is at http://www.ico.gov.uk/complaints/freedom_of_information.aspx
Professor Ewan McKendrick