Dear Sunderland City Council,
please make available (in electronic format) copies of all legal advises received concerning the matter of the legality (or otherwise) of granting rates relief to the Church of Scientology premises at 51 Fawcett Street, SR1 1RS. I know that all this information is protected by Legal Professional Privilege but I am asking for it nonetheless. I feel it is in the public interest that this information be open to the inspection of the public. The reason being that there is an inconsistency across the country regarding the granting of rates relief to Church of Scientology premises and this inconsistency might be the result of conflicting legal advice. Should that be the case then the intention is to bring this to the attention of central government with the aim of resolving this conflict. In order for this to be achieved then the production of these legal advises are necessary from all local authorities and that is why I am requesting them from you.
I confirm that your request for information has been received and is receiving attention
The Council aims to provide available information promptly and in any event within 20 working days, unless, exceptionally, there is a need to consider whether the information is exempt from disclosure. Please note that there may be a charge for providing copies of the information. If the cost of complying with your request in full exceeds £450, we will ask you to reconsider your request, or to pay a fee before the information is supplied. If we need to ask you to refine your request or to pay a charge or fee we will let you know. Please quote the reference below if you contact the Council regarding this request.
Customer Request Number 110227
Dear Mr Rashleigh-Berry
Re: Freedom of Information Act 2000
Your request for the legal advice concerning the legality of granting
non-domestic rates relief
to the Church of Scientology Religious Education College Inc - 51 Fawcett
I have considered your request for information, the Council does hold the
information however I consider your request to be vexatious. As such, in
accordance with Section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the
Council are not obliged to comply with this request.
You are aware that Mr William Thackeray has also previously submitted a
request for this information which the Council considered under a review
process and believed to be exempt from disclosure due to legal
professional privilege. The Council uploaded those documents which it
believed could be disclosed onto the 'WhatDoTheyKnow' website on 7th
December 2010. On 13th December 2010, you will note that Mr Thackeray made
a complaint to the Information Commissioner. The complaint has been
received by the Information Commissioner and the matter shall be
considered in due course. Should the Information Commissioner
subsequently decide that the legal advice should be disclosed then I
shall ensure that you are provided with copies.
I hope this is satisfactory to you. If however, you are dissatisfied with
my response to your request for information, you can ask for a review.
This will be removed from the Directorate and coordinated by the Council's
Information Manager. A request for a review should be addressed to the
Information Manager PO Box 100, Civic Centre, Sunderland, SR2 7DN.
If this fails to resolve your concerns then you have the right to apply to
the Information Commissioner for a decision.
Mrs Victoria Gamble
Law and Governance
Commercial and Corporate Services
Tel: 0191 561 8797
Fax: 0191 553 1020
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Dear Sunderland City Council,
Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.
I am writing to request an internal review of Sunderland City Council's handling of my FOI request 'Legal advises received re 51 Fawcett Street Scientology'.
It has been stated to me that my request was "vexatious". This can not be so since it is in the public interest to find out why there is a conflict of opinions delivered in legal advises across the country concerning the legality of granting rates relief to Church of Scientology premises. The CoLCorp has already provided the legal advise they received on this matter so I do not see why your local authority will not do so and even less why it is considered to be "vexatious". I ask that you reconsider this decision with a view to providing this information as the CoLCorp has already done.
A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:
Dear Mr Rashleigh - Berry
Your request for review has been passed to me for consideration.
In consideration of this case, it is impossible not to be mindful of the
number of related requests relating Scientology in Sunderland nor the
fact that a significant number of the requestors appear known to one
another - electronically at the very least.
On 5 February 2011 you asked for copies of 'legal advices received
concerning the matter of the legality (or
otherwise) of granting rates relief to the Church of Scientology',
premises at 51 Fawcett Street - before going on to freely admit that you
'know that all this information is protected by Legal Professional
Privilege but ... am asking for it nonetheless'.
As you will no doubt be aware, the information you request was also the
subject of a request from one William Thackeray - also made via
whatdotheyknow.com. Information was uploaded from the Council to the
whatdotheyknow.com site on 7 December, some of which you refer to other
posts on whatdotheyknow.com and some of which you appear to refer to in
posts on whyweprotest.net - Sunderland Rates Relief based talk.
It seems clear therefore that you are familiar with the history of the
requested information: accordingly it seems unlikely, on making your
request of 5 February, that you will have been completely unaware that
the same information had already been declined or of Mr Thackeray's
referral of the Council's uploaded response to
omment-15045 to the Information Commissioner on 13 December 2010.
Accordingly, the position relating to this request is that
i) You acknowledge certain Council information to be legally
professionally privileged -
ii) - but request it anyway -
iii) - despite the published fact is that consideration of the public
interest in maintaining or overturning privilege is, at present, with
In considering your request for review I have been mindful of the
Information Commissioner's guidance on vexatiousness in Freedom of
Information cases and in particular the qualities of vexatiousness as
found in the Commissioner's guide
In the simplest terms, your request prejudges the ICO's position on the
correct application of an exemption of some significance to the legal
profession and process un the United Kingdom. An answer on the issue at
hand will be forthcoming in due time and it should be remembered that
the matter of legal professional privilege is a very significant issue
for the proper operation of UK justice: it is difficult to see how
pressuring the Council to release information that is the subject of
established formal consideration is in the interests of the proper
application of FOI exemptions, the client / advisor relationship or the
general public interest.
I appreciate this may not be the response you had hoped for, but must
confirm that the Council's position of 22 February 2011 - that your
request is vexatious - is upheld. You are, of course, free to consult
the Information Commissioner yourself in relation to this issue.
Data Protection Officer
Law & Governance
Commercial & Corporate Services
Sunderland City Council
If this matter is with the ICO then this is satisfactory from my point of view.
I emailed William Thackeray to ask him if he had received copies of the legal advises and he replied that he did not know. That is why I put in the request. You appear to think that people act in concert in this matter but it is just that the granting of financial advantages to this organisation (that many consider to be a cult) attracts a lot of interest and so individuals can make similar requests.
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