Scientology: Objections to release of information under Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA)

William Thackeray made this Freedom of Information request to City of London Corporation

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was partially successful.

William Thackeray

Dear City of London Corporation,

The Information Commissioner's Decision Notice FS50265544 states (para 65) that

"the COREC [Church of Scientology Religious Education College Incorporated] has repeatedly objected to disclosure by the CoL of any information relating to its application for mandatory rate relief."

1)

Please release (in their entirety) the communications from COSREC which contain such objections, with any documents or enclosures which were supplied with them or to which they refer.

2)

Please also include the City of London's response or responses (if any).

3)

Please also include CoL's internal and external communications and records which relate to the documents in (1) or (2). For example, letters or emails discussing the communications, meeting notes or minutes of meetings at which they were discussed, memos discussing them.

Please provide the information by email to this address.

Many thanks.

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

COL - EB - Information Officer, City of London Corporation

The City of London acknowledges receipt of your request.

City of London
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk

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COL - EB - Information Officer, City of London Corporation

Dear Mr Thackeray,

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000 (FOIA) - INFORMATION REQUEST

Following your request of 24 October 2010, and our acknowledgement of 25
October, the City of London (CoL) responds as follows.

This response constitutes a refusal notice in accordance with section
17(5) of the FOIA. The CoL refuses your request as falling under the
section 14(1) exemption relating to vexatious requests.

The CoL considers that the request fulfils to a necessary degree criteria
outlined in the guidance issued by the Information Commissioner's Office
(please see Freedom of Information Act - Vexatious and Repeated Requests,
Version 4, 3 December 2008), which are also referred to in the
Commissioner's Decision Notice Ref: FS50238979. The Information
Commissioner has noted that:

"When determining whether or not a request has been appropriately deemed
vexatious the Commissioner considers the following questions to be
relevant:

Could the request fairly be seen as obsessive or manifestly unreasonable?
Is the request harassing the authority or causing distress to staff?
Would complying with the request impose a significant burden?
Is the request designed to cause disruption or annoyance?
Does the request lack any serious purpose or value?"

(Decision Notice Ref: FS50238979).

The ICO also considers that, "It is not necessary for all of the above
criteria to be satisfied in order for a request to be deemed vexatious and
indeed a strong argument in one may outweigh weaker arguments in the
others" (Decision Notice Ref: FS50238979).

The Information Tribunal has noted (Decision Notice ref: EA/2007/0130)
that a, "decision as to whether a request was vexatious within the meaning
of s.14 was a complex matter [which] might not lend itself to an overly
structured approach...".

Nevertheless, as far as possible, we follow the Information Commissioner's
criteria as follows (our numbering).

(1) Could the request fairly be seen as obsessive or manifestly
unreasonable?

We note the Information Tribunal's opinion that, "When considering section
14, the general principles of FOIA that the identity of the requester is
irrelevant, and that FOIA is purpose blind, cannot apply" (Decision Notice
ref: EA/2007/0088).

We consider that the request indicates an obsessive approach which is
manifestly unreasonable. Since February 2009 you have made 19 requests to
the CoL (including this one) under the FOIA on the subject of the Church
of Scientology and closely related matters. The clear purport of the
collective requests is that the CoL has wrongly awarded mandatory rate
relief to COSREC. In spite of disclosures at
[1]http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/disclosur..., and other disclosures
via the WDTK website, you continue to send requests on this subject, 5 of
which have been or are already being dealt with by the ICO (plus a sixth
on a procedural point). The fact also that, on 2 November 2010, the Local
Government Ombudsman reported that an investigation into the awarding of
mandatory rate relief by the CoL to COSREC had decided that there was no
evidence of administrative fault in this matter by the CoL causing
injustice, would seem to place the quantity of requests in their context
as being obsessive.

(2) Is the request harassing the authority or causing distress to staff?

The CoL considers that the scale of the work which has been required and
continues to be required in managing requests from you (and, also via
WDTK, several other persons, whom we reasonably conclude are acting as a
campaign on this issue with you) is harassing the authority.

The fact of making another request, thereby implying - as the campaign as
a whole has occasionally been stating explicitly at times - failings by
the authority on the matter of the granting of the relief, in spite of
publication of reasoning, legal advice, and correspondence with the
Government on the matter (which makes it obvious that further clarity is
required from the Government on the legal issues involved), the need to
see communications (ie documents) in their "entirety" (rather than
referring solely to information), seemingly implying that the CoL has been
or may be intending to hide something (something which perhaps could be
key to upsetting the decision to award the relief), we consider harasses
the authority. We also consider that staff feel distressed by their
repeated diversion from other duties to manage requests on this issue.

(3) Would complying with the request impose a significant burden?

The request in itself would not impose a significant burden on the
authority with regard to those elements which it is permitted to take into
account under the Fees Regulations, ie in essence retrieval of the
information. However, we consider that it should be seen in the context of
the 18 other requests by you, which cumulatively now represent an
unwarranted diversion of resources. We also note that there would appear
to be no end to the burden. Each new statement or disclosure prompts
further requests in what seems to be an open ended process (which it seems
to me is unlikely to cease until it has achieved the aim, in conjunction
with requests from others also interested in this campaign, of stopping
COSREC from receiving mandatory rate relief).

We also note the Tribunal's comment that "the consequences of finding that
a request for information is vexatious are much less serious than a
finding of vexatious conduct in ... other contexts, and therefore the
threshold for a request to be found vexatious need not be set too high"
(Decision Notice ref: EA/2007/0024). We nevertheless consider that the
scale of work which has been and continues to be involved with regard to
your various requests, additional to that work which falls within the
parameters described by the Fees Regulations, presents a significant level
of vexatiousness. Viewed in the context of your 19 requests, the
compliance cost with regard to work not eligible to fall within the Fees
Regulations has been considerable.

In addition, as the Tribunal has confirmed, and we would agree,
"significant burden is not just a question of financial resources, but
includes issues of distraction and diversion from other work" (Decision
Notice ref: EA/2007/0088). This has become a significant issue for the
CoL.

(4) Is the request designed to cause disruption or annoyance?

The Tribunal has noted that, "It does not follow that a request can only
be vexatious if the applicant intended it to be so; it may be vexatious
regardless of his motives" (Decision Notice ref: EA/2007/0114).

If this had been one of only a few requests we had received from you we
would not have sought specifically to rely upon the argument that the
request was designed to cause disruption and annoyance. However, given
that the request appears to us to be part of a campaign we do in addition
not rule out the possibility in this instance that the intention is to
cause "disruption or annoyance" in an attempt to gain the campaign's
objectives, which are clearly to challenge the granting of mandatory rate
relief to COSREC, even though we as a local authority have placed in the
public domain significant evidence of reasoning as to why we have made
these decisions, and in spite of the fact that the elected Members prior
to your request yet again authorised the granting of the relief, and did
so rather than spend taxpayers' money on other options before them which
could have proved a pointless expense.

(5) Does the request lack any serious purpose or value?

We acknowledge the following comments by the Information Tribunal, that it
"could imagine circumstances in which a request might be said to create a
significant burden and indeed have the effect of harassing the public
authority and yet, given its serious and proper purpose ought not to be
deemed as vexatious. For instance, one could imagine a requester seeking
to uncover bias in a series of decisions by a public authority, covering
many years and involving extensive detail, each of fairly minor importance
in themselves but representing a major issue when taken together. This
might indeed be experienced as harassing but given the issue behind the
requests, a warranted course of action" (Decision Notice ref:
EA/2007/0130).

We have considered this important issue and we weigh it up against the
above arguments under the various headings, including the fact of
disclosures already made prior to your request (including high level,
third party legal advice), the position of the Government mentioned above
already made clear prior to your request, and the recent ruling by the
Local Government Ombudsman. We consider that, on balance, we have reached
a stage where your continuing requests lack the necessary serious purpose
or value. They would seem to represent a refusal to accept a position
which has now been aired in public, and with various authorities (the
Government and the Local Government Ombudsman), to a significant extent,
and which in any case is always open to possible review by the CoL.

In conclusion we find that on the balance of considerations, section 14(1)
applies to this request.

I would also comment that the use of section 14(1) is not something the
CoL considers lightly. The CoL has applied section 14(1) whole or in part
to 17 of the 2,266 FOI requests it has received and completed (to date)
since the right to request information under the Act came into force. Of
these, 9 applied to applicants contesting parking control notices. The
remaining 8 applications of the exemption (including to this request) have
applied to requests, whole or in part, received as part of this campaign
(in pursuance of which we reasonably consider we have received 30 requests
since February 2009, and all of which can be found on the WDTK website)
for the removal of the granting of mandatory rate relief to COSREC.

Having applied an exemption, it would be normal at this point to invite an
applicant to complain to the authority should she or he wish to do so.
However, even though the Information Commissioner can legally refuse to
consider an applicant's complaint against an authority if the applicant
"has not exhausted any complaints procedure which is provided by the
public authority" (FOIA section 50(2)), in this instance the CoL forgoes
its right to consider any such complaint as it considers the officer time
involved in an issue it has already fully considered would only be further
vexatious to the authority, and an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds,
particularly in the context of the 18 other requests and 8 complaints
(plus a further one on procedural grounds) to the CoL and 6 complaints to
the ICO, made by you, and the 11 other requests and 8 complaints to the
CoL and 2 complaints to the ICO, which we consider also to have been made
as part of this campaign.

We note the Code of Practice under section 45 of the FOIA encourages an
authority to provide a complaints procedure. However, it is not a legal
requirement to have such a procedure. We have, since the Act came into
full force on 1/1/2005, had a FOI complaints procedure but, in the context
of vexatiousness and this campaign, we are happy for applicants to refer
their issues directly to the Information Commissioner should they wish to
do so.

If you wish to make a complaint to the Information Commissioner, please
contact: Information Commissioner, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow,
Cheshire, SK9 5AF. Telephone: (01625) 545700. Website:
[2]http://www.ico.gov.uk/.

The FOIA applies to the CoL as a local authority, police authority and
port health authority. The CoL holds the copyright in this communication.
Its supply does not give a right to re-use in a way that would infringe
that copyright, for example, by making copies, publishing and issuing
copies to the public or to any other person. Brief extracts of any of the
material may be reproduced under the fair dealing provisions of the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (sections 29 and 30) for the
purposes of research for non-commercial purposes, private study,
criticism, review and news reporting, subject to an acknowledgement of the
copyright owner.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Nelson
Assistant Town Clerk
City of London
T: 020-7332 1413
[3]www.cityoflondon.gov.uk

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William Thackeray

Dear Peter,

I'm going to refer this matter to the Information Commissioner as I do not agree with your conclusion that the request is vexatious; however before I do so I wish to thank yourself and your colleagues for your assistance on this matter.

As an aside, you refer to "the government's position on this matter"; it sounds as though you may be unaware that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has stated that Scientology does not "deserve favoured tax treatment over and above other business premises" (BBC News 10 October 2010) and should not be awarded mandatory relief from national non-domestic rates.

Anyway, thanks again for your help.

Yours sincerely,

William Thackeray

William Thackeray left an annotation ()

Referred to ICO 18 November 2010.

COL - EB - Information Officer, City of London Corporation

Dear Mr Thackeray,

Thank you for letting me know the course you are following.

On the other point, yes, I was aware of the statement by Eric Pickles to
the press and it was very interesting. I would be keen to know what lay
behind it, because it seems to me to be at odds with what I would call the
official position. The guidance we have had suggests otherwise and it was
that uncertainty that we (and probably others) would like to see resolved.
His Department has, though, chosen not to become involved (as the
information on our website shows). Maybe Eric Pickles was trying to force
the hand of his officials; who knows. But we cannot consider a
political/press comment to be a legal statement, or some sort of
Government instruction, on the matter - unless the Government Department
decides to support the comment of their Minister which, as yet, they have
not done. I am sure we have not reached the end of the story (and I doubt
the ending has yet been written)!

Yours sincerely,

Peter Nelson
Assistant Town Clerk
City of London
T: 020-7332 1413
[1]www.cityoflondon.gov.uk

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Ben Harris left an annotation ()

This request is the subject of the Information Commissioner's decision notice FS50361229:

"The Commissioner has given the matter careful consideration and he has concluded that section 14(1) applies in this case. He therefore requires no further action to be taken."
<http://www.ico.gov.uk/~/media/documents/...>

William Thackeray left an annotation ()

Currently on appeal to Tribunal.

William Thackeray left an annotation ()

Tribunal appeal EA/2011/0083 won:

http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DB...

City of London has to release the information or provide a reason why not.

William Thackeray

Dear City of London,

Following the decision of the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) dated 18 May 2012, I await the information which I requested on 24 October 2010.

Thank you for your assistance with this matter.

Yours sincerely,

William Thackeray

Pietsch, Anne, City of London Corporation

Dear Mr Thackeray,

You should have been informed by the Information Commissioner's Office last week that the City of London was only advised late on the 17 July of the revised decision of the Tribunal dated 25 May 2012 (EA/2001/0083) and of the timeframe for compliance which had by that date passed. The Commissioner was and remains aware that the City Corporation was awaiting notice of that revised decision before responding to you.

This email is to update you that I am currently preparing a response to your revised request dated 24 October 2010. I can confirm that information is held. I was planning on responding to you today but this has not been possible. I hope to be able to respond to you by the 31 July, within 14 days of our being advised of the revised decision.

Yours sincerely,

Anne Pietsch
Comptroller and City Solicitor’s Department City of London, PO Box 270, Guildhall EC2P 2EJ
PH: 020 - 7332 1633 (direct line)
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk

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Pietsch, Anne, City of London Corporation

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Thackeray
 
Further to the decision of the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights)
EA/2011/0083 dated 25 May 2012, please find attached the City of London’s
response to your Freedom of Information request dated 24 October 2010 and
the information which has been disclosed with this response.
Yours sincerely
 
Anne Pietsch
Comptroller and City Solicitor’s Department
City of London, PO Box 270, Guildhall  EC2P 2EJ
PH:    020 - 7332 1633 (direct line)
[1]www.cityoflondon.gov.uk
 
 
 
 

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William Thackeray left an annotation ()

Dear ICO and Tribunal,

The public authority appears to be refusing to follow the Tribunal's directions in this case.

Instead of releasing all the information which the Tribunal has instructed them to release, they've created a new pair of Partial Refusal Notices, raising new exemptions which have not been considered by the Tribunal.

These documents can be found here:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/al...
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/29...

and here:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/sc...
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/50...

I take the view that the present time - two years after the requests were made, very much after the 30 day deadline has elapsed, after internal review, after ICO consideration and after the Tribunal has considered the case - is very much too late for the public authority to raise new exemptions.

If the public authority did not agree with the Tribunal's decision then the proper course would have been for them to lodge an appeal with the Upper Tribunal; they have not done so. Instead they are simply choosing not to comply with the Tribunal's decision.

I ask, for the third time, that enforcement action be taken by the Tribunal or the ICO against the public authority. Given the public authority's apparent determination not to release the disputed information even after being asked to do so by the ICO, perhaps it would be appropriate at this stage for the public authority's apparent contempt of court to be declared to the High Court.

Kind regards,
William.

William Thackeray

Dear City of London Corporation,

Thank you for your reply to my FOIA query of 24 October 2010.

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of City of London Corporation's handling of my FOI request 'Scientology: Objections to release of information under Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA)'.

My reason for requesting an internal review is:

The City of London now relies upon new exemptions which it has not raised at any previous time during this FOIA query's progress through the original FOIA timeline, your original internal review process, the ICO investigation and decision notice, or the Tribunal
case. It is too late for the public authority to raise additional exemptions at this stage; such exemptions should have been raised at the appropriate time, which was November 2010. The information should therefore be released in full.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/sc...

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

COL - EB - Information Officer, City of London Corporation

Dear Mr Thackeray,

The City of London acknowledges your request for internal review of 1 August 2012.

The City of London aims to respond to FOI complaints within 20 working days from the first working day after receiving the complaint, in accordance with its FOI complaints procedure.

Yours sincerely,

City of London
Tel: 020-7332 1209
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk

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COL - EB - Information Officer, City of London Corporation

Dear Mr Thackeray,

Thank you for your two emails of 1 August 2012 (receipt of which was acknowledged by the City of London (CoL) on 2 August) complaining about our responses to your two requests of 10 March 2010 and 24 October 2010.

First, on a technical point, I note that you describe the request of 10 March 2010 as being dated 18 February 2010. We duly responded to the request of 18 February on 9 March 2010, with an appropriate limit refusal. Therefore this is not the request at issue. The request at issue is your revised request of 10 March 2010 following on from that refusal and which was legally a new request.

Secondly, I note your use of the word "eventual" with regard to our response to your request of 10 March 2010. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) contains processes which may be legitimately followed in responding to information requests (such as the application of exemptions) as well as making provision for challenging decisions. While the CoL's refusals of your requests of 10 March and 24 October 2010 were upheld by the Information Commissioner, they were not upheld by the Tribunal (when the matters were finally heard after being stayed for some time). Nevertheless, the Tribunal still considered that the Commissioner was correct in determining that the requests could fairly be judged to have fallen under section 14 in the context of all the requests that you had submitted to the CoL in respect of scientology. I take this as strongly indicating that those initial refusals of the CoL were not frivolous and represented a reasonable and proportionate use of the Act. I would also maintain that any delays in considering your requests which have ensued were equally understandable.

I shall now move on to your two complaints, which have been passed to me to consider.

With regard to Mr Luder's appearances, I confirm that the only information held which falls within your request is that referred to in the CoL's response of 31 July 2012. Mr Luder's appearances anywhere in any capacity as an elected representative (of the Ward within which the COSREC building is sited), or any other non-official capacity, at any time, are not the concern of the CoL. As has also previously been made clear, information held by Mr Luder in his capacity as an elected representative is outside the scope of the FOIA.

With regard to the other part of your complaints, duplicated by you in relation to the CoL's responses to each request, I do not uphold your complaints. You state that the CoL should not raise any new exemptions. However, your argument in support of your complaint is exactly the opposite of that which legally applies. The decision of the Tribunal (EA/2011/0082 & 0083) is clear. With regard to the information requested, it directs the CoL to "either disclose [the requested information] or issue an appropriate refusal notice explaining why it says that the requested information was not disclosable at the time the request was made." That has been done.

Should you consider that your complaints have not been properly responded to, you can complain to the Information Commissioner:
Information Commissioner, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF.
Telephone: (01625) 545700
Website: www.ico.gov.uk/<http://www.ico.gov.uk/>

Yours sincerely,

Peter Nelson
Assistant Town Clerk
City of London
T: 020-7332 1413
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk<http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk>

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