Be data protection aware

In an appeal against the decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner, the Supreme Court (the UK's highest) has ruled that South Lanarkshire Council ("SLC") was not entitled to refuse disclosure of information on its pay scales.

SLC have intimated that it will now release the information "as soon as is practical."

Background

Over three years ago, Action 4 Equality Scotland campaigner Mr Irvine, exercising his rights under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 ("FOISA"), sought information from SLC regarding its salary scales – the purpose of which was to identify whether SLC paid more money for jobs traditionally performed by men.

Despite the Scottish Information Commissioner taking the view that Mr Irvine had a right to access the information, SLC declined to supply him with the information on the basis that his request was unreasonable / disruptive and acceding to it would breach the Data Protection Act 1998 ("DPA").

Ruling

The Court agreed with the Scottish Information Commissioner's finding that the data protection exemption was not relevant and Mr Irvine had a legitimate interest in disclosure of the information "given the considerable sums of public money involved and the fundamental issues of fair and equal treatment".

Summary

The crux of the Court's reasoning focused on the merits of the grounds of refusal advanced by SLC, namely that disclosure conflicted with SLC's data protection obligations. Whilst FOISA upholds an exemption from disclosing information where it comprises personal data and release would be contrary to the DPA, in this instance it was not engaged. In short, the information sought "would not enable Mr Irvine or anyone else to discover the identity of the [SLC employees subject to the request]" and therefore failed to fall within the scope of this exemption.

FOISA contains a number of provisions which allow information to be withheld. The IPTC team can advise on the handling of information requests, the application of possible exemptions and assist in the preparation of written responses / refusal notices.