In the case of Chief Constable of South Yorkshire v Information Commissioner the court held that, when estimating the cost of complying with a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), a public authority could not take into account the cost of redacting from document information that was exempt from disclosure.

The chief constable of South Yorkshire Police appealed against a decision of the Information Tribunal that time spent redacting exempt information from documents requested under the FOIA 2000 by the respondent (W) was not to be included when estimating the cost of complying with the information request.

W, a journalist, requested information from South Yorkshire Police about illegal firearms. He also asked for copies of any reports prepared or received by South Yorkshire Police about gun crime. South Yorkshire Police identified two documents falling within the scope of the request. One document (document 1) was disclosed to W although certain passages were redacted from it because they contained information which was exempt from disclosure under Sections 21, 31 and 38 of FOIA (information which is reasonably accessible by other means and information whose disclosure is likely to prejudice law enforcement or health and safety).

South Yorkshire Police refused to disclose the whole of the other document (document 2). Document 2 was 187 pages long. Like document 1, it contained information which was exempt from disclosure under Sections 31 and 38. It was estimated that the cost of redacting exempt information from the whole document would exceed the total limit for time spent responding to an information request as contained in the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (appropriate limit and fees) Regulations 2004.  

W complained to the Information Commissioner, who held that under regulation 4 of the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (appropriate limit and fees) Regulations 2004, time spent redacting information that was exempt was not to be included when estimating the costs of complying with an information request. On appeal, the Information Tribunal agreed with the Information Commissioner’s decision.

The judgment makes it clear that public authorities cannot take into account the cost of redacting from documents information that is exempt from disclosure when calculating the cost of complying with a request for disclosure under the FOIA.