The responsibilities of staff employed in Council's Legal Department 2011/12

The request was partially successful.

Dear Harrogate Borough Council

I should be grateful if you would address the following questions in relation to staffing within the Council’s legal and governance department in the period between November 1, 2011 and January 31, 2012.
1. Please name all staff who had the job title of Solicitor.
2. Please name all staff who had the job title of Legal Assistant.
3. Are Legal Assistants employed by Harrogate Borough Council qualified to provide "legal opinion"; that is to say; not just express a view on a particular matter, but provide professional assessments and judgements on points of law and compliance; with the Council then making decisions based on that advice?
4. The Council’s Director of Corporate Affairs has claimed that the advice given by in-house lawyers does not have to be revealed in response to Freedom of Information requests because it is protected by “legal privilege.” Please clarify which of the officers named in your answers to questions 1 and 2 would have been entitled to claim legal privilege in respect of any advice they provided?
Yours faithfully
Peter Lilley

Foi, Harrogate Borough Council

Dear Mr Lilley

 

Thank you for your email which we received on 08/09/2017. We are treating
this as a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act
2000. This means that —

 

o if we need more information about what you want, we will contact you
again as soon as we can; the twenty working days in which to give you
the information will start once we know exactly what you want
o if we do not hold the information, we will, if we can, transfer your
request to an authority who does hold it, and tell you what we have
done (please contact us immediately if you do not want us to do this);
otherwise, we will let you know that we do not hold the information
o if we hold the information and there is no reason to withhold it, we
will send it to you as soon as we can.  If there is likely to be a
delay for any reason, we will let you know
o if we believe that there is a good reason why the information should
not be disclosed, we will let you know as much as we can about how we
reached our decision

 

We will respond to your request promptly, and in any event, within the 20
working day limit as set out in s10 of the Act.

 

Regards

 

Rich Kemp LLB (Hons)

(Debt & Information Law)

Legal & Governance

Harrogate Borough Council

PO Box 787

Harrogate

HG1 9RW

 

tel: 01423 500600 (ext - 58602)

email:  [1][email address]

[2]www.harrogate.gov.uk

 

 

Rich Kemp, Harrogate Borough Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Lilley

 

Thank you for your email requesting information under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 (‘FOIA’). Please find below our response:

 

1.       Please see attached structure of the Legal section in 2011/12.
The Council declines to provide names of officers as we consider that
information to be exempt from disclosure by section 40 of the FOIA because
the information constitutes third party personal data. Section 40(2)
provides that personal data about third parties is exempt information if
one of the conditions set out in section 40(3) is satisfied. Disclosure of
this information would contravene the fair processing principle contained
in Schedule 1 of Data Protection Act (DPA), as it would be unfair to those
data subjects. Officers, other than senior officers, would not have an
expectation that their names are disclosed in the context of an FOI
request. It would also be particularly unfair where those data subjects
are no longer in the employment of the Council. To process personal data
one of the conditions in Schedule 2 of the DPA must be met or it needs to
be necessary to pursue the purposes of legitimate interests pursued by
others. In these circumstances a general argument about openness and
transparency will not suffice. In this case, we do not find that any of
the conditions in Schedule 2 are met or that there are any legitimate
interests in the names of the officials being disclosed to the public
under FOIA.

2.       As above.

3.       Legal Assistants are employed to carry out the full range of
legal work for the Council save where a formal qualification as a
solicitor or barrister is required in order to have a right of audience in
the courts. There is a structure of supervision and line management for
all staff in Legal Services.

4.       The exemption from disclosure as a result of the operation of
legal professional privilege extends to advice given by all members of the
Legal Services team including Legal Assistants. This is a principle
established by case law.

 

If you are not satisfied with the way your request has been handled,
please contact -  

 

Freedom of Information Officer, PO Box 787, Harrogate, HG1 9RW

 

or email [1][Harrogate Borough Council request email]

 

The Council has an internal appeal system.  If your complaint is about the
decision which has been made you will usually be entitled to have your
case reviewed by an officer from a department which has not been involved
in the decision previously.   

 

If, after their decision, you are still not happy, you may appeal to-  

 

The Information Commissioner

Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF

Tel: 0303 123 1113

website: [2]https://ico.org.uk/

 

Regards

 

Rich Kemp LLB (Hons)

(Debt & Information Law)

Legal & Governance

Harrogate Borough Council

PO Box 787

Harrogate

HG1 9RW

 

tel: 01423 500600 (ext - 58602)

email:  [3][email address]

[4]www.harrogate.gov.uk

 

 

Dear Mr Kemp
I’m sorry to say (and not for the first time) I find the response of HBC' s legal department to an FOI request to be unsatisfactory. I would therefore ask that there should be an Internal Review into the way this request has been handled.
I understand this will be undertaken by a senior officer completely unconnected with the Council’s legal department and with no prior involvement in the matter being reviewed.
My concern relates to the Council’s substantive answer and its refusal to provide the names of officers it employed between November 1, 2011 and January 31, 2012 who had the job title of either solicitor or legal assistant.
The Council’s argument appears to be that this relates to the principle of protecting third party personal data. Since this was an FOI request submitted to Harrogate Borough Council about personnel employed by Harrogate Borough Council, I fail to understand how these former employees can possibly be viewed as being a third party.
I also take issue with the argument that it would be “unfair” to name those former staff. The legal department claims that officers, other than the most senior, would not have an expectation that their names would be disclosed in the context of an FOI request. And yet we are talking here about officers clearly considered senior enough to offer serious professional advice to councillors. Indeed, advice which led to a decision which resulted in the Council breaching the Equality Act 2010 and the Council’s own equalities policy for 4.5 years.
If anyone as a right to claim “unfairness” it is surely the male residents of the Borough of Harrogate and male visitors to the Borough during that 4.5 year period who, as a result of the misleading legal advice, were denied a benefit they were fully entitled to. I also take exception to the suggestion that my FOI request is somehow based on a “general argument about openness and transparency.” On the contrary, it is based on the very specific argument that since the Council’s defence as to why it took 4.5 years to recognise
the legal advice it received in November 2011 and January 2012 was fundamentally flawed; I believe it has a clear duty to provide a detailed and credible explanation as to how this was possible?
The Council has persistently failed to do so. Indeed, instead of providing answers, the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council have now ruled that officers will not engage in further correspondence with me on this matter; a decision I find completely unacceptable.
I look forward to receiving the result of the Internal Review into the way this FOI request was handled.
Yours sincerely,
Peter Lilley

Rich Kemp, Harrogate Borough Council

Dear Mr Lilley

 

I write to confirm that your request for an internal review was received
on 09/10/2017. The Council will endeavour to complete the review within 20
working days. The review will be carried out by a senior Council Officer
who has not been involved with your original request. You will be informed
of the decision of the review as soon as possible once the review has been
completed. If you remain unsatisfied after the findings of the review you
then have the right to complain to the Information Commissioners Office,
details will be provided in the review response.

 

Regards

 

Rich Kemp LLB (Hons)

(Debt & Information Law)

Legal & Governance

Harrogate Borough Council

PO Box 787

Harrogate

HG1 9RW

 

tel: 01423 500600 (ext - 58602)

email:  [1][email address]

[2]www.harrogate.gov.uk

 

 

Roger Richardson, Harrogate Borough Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Lilley,

 

Please find attached my response to your request.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Dean Richardson

Head of Safer Communities

Harrogate Borough Council

PO Box 787

Harrogate

HG1 9RW

T: 01423 500600 (Ext: 58522)

M: 07525 988068

E: [1][email address]

W: [2]www.harrogate.gov.uk

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

This email is Scanned by MailMarshal

Peter Lilley left an annotation ()

I think it's important to record the fact that Harrogate Borough Council's Head of Safer Communities, Mr Dean Richardson, undertook an Internal Review into the way HBC handled my FOI request.
It came as no surprise that Mr Richardson reached the conclusion that his HBC colleagues had handled my request entirely properly.
Mr Richardson also claimed that he could see no legitimate reason to name the junior officers who provided the crucial legal advice which led to HBC's decision to axe all men-only bathing sessions at Harrogate's Turkish Baths from the start of 2012; a decision which was later proved to have been unlawful and in breach of the Equality Act 2010.
It's difficult to see how any resident can have full confidence in Harrogate Borough Council when it would appear that none of its officers, including the Chief Executive, are prepared to take full, personal responsibility for flawed decisions made under their watch. It's an entirely unsatisfactory state of affairs.

Looking for an EU Authority?

You can request documents directly from EU Institutions at our sister site AskTheEU.org . Find out more .

AskTheEU.org