Edmund Garnett successful in First-tier Tribunal Freedom of Information appeal

29 April 2024

Edmund Garnett – instructed by Northumbria Police – has been successful in resisting an appeal made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Edmund successfully argued that the request for information was vexatious.

The Appellant – a journalist – sought the voluminous case files relating to a high-profile historic murder, suggesting that he wished to investigate an alleged miscarriage of justice. Northumbria Police declined to comply with the request, citing the excessive amount of work preparing said files for disclosure would incur. That decision was upheld by the Information Commissioner.

The Appellant appealed to the First-tier Tribunal, disputing the extent of the burden (challenging both the accuracy of Northumbria Police’s evidence about the time necessary to process the material and the need to consider the same for redaction), whilst also offering to reduce the scope of the information being requested and to contribute financially to the costs of processing.

The Tribunal found that the material would have to be considered for potential redactions, but held that the burden placed upon Northumbria Police would be vexatious even putting aside the time estimate for such work. That conclusion was made notwithstanding the Tribunal’s finding that there was a potential public interest in the Appellant’s journalistic purpose. Interestingly, the Tribunal indicated that it would have considered even 100 hours of processing time to have been vexatious given the resources available to Northumbria Police (see [87]).

The Tribunal also rejected the Appellant’s offer to reduce the scope of his request, noting that its jurisdiction was to consider the request as considered in the Decision Notice of the Information Commissioner. It was held that it was not incumbent upon Northumbria Police to seek to extract a non-vexatious request from the original under s.16 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It was further accepted that it would not have been reasonable to permit the Appellant to personally inspect the material. The offer to contribute financially was rejected as irrelevant to the issue of vexatiousness.

The judgment may be found on BAILII here.

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