The Information Commissioner has ruled that the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) must disclose the names and addresses of respondents to all employment tribunal claims presented since 1st October 2004.
BERR had originally rejected a request made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for disclosure of the names and addresses of all respondent employers since 1st October 2004 on the basis that (i) it did not hold the information; alternatively (ii) that it would or would be likely to "prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs."
The particular examples of likely prejudice relied upon in the objection were that (a) disclosure may increase the likelihood of directing marketing to the respondent businesses thus increasing the likelihood of them engaging legal representation which diminished the possibility to the parties settling the dispute; (b) may cause unwarranted damage to respondent's reputations; (c) the public disclosure of disputes which would normally remain private until reaching a public hearing may again may reduce the likelihood of settlement; (d) disclosure would be contrary to the apparent intention of Parliament deduced from the Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2004 which provided that respondents' details should not be placed in the public domain prior to a judgment being given.
The first objection was given short shrift: BERR possessed and processed the information for statistical purposes so it "held" the information.
The second objection was also dismissed: even if disclosure had the effect of damaging respondents' reputations and exposing them to direct marketing, BERR had failed to explain how such exposure would prejudice BERR's own ability to offer an effective service and therefore be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs. BERR was therefore required to disclose the information.
However, BERR appealed the Notice on 30th October 2008 and so disclosure has not yet taken place. The administrative target for disposing of appeals is 30 weeks, so it may be some time yet before a final decision if given. In the meantime, interested parties may monitor progress of the case at the Information Commissioner's website at www.ico.gov.uk.