Which exemptions succeed?
Which reasons used by public authorities to keep information secret are most likely to be approved by the Information Commissioner?
We've been examining the Commissioner's decisions to see how often he approves the use of the various exemptions laid down in the Freedom of Information Act.
The following table gives the percentage of occasions on which the Commissioner has, after receiving a complaint, approved the use of the exemption in question by a public authority to withhold information in response to an FOI request. (The numbers in brackets indicate the section of the FOI Act which specifies that exemption).
Security services (23) 100%
Legal privilege (42) 88%
Court records (32) 83%
International relations (27) 79%
Other prohibitions (44) 74%
Personal information (40) 70%
Investigations (30) 69%
Health and safety (38) 64%
Law enforcement (31) 63%
Economy (29) 63%
Provided in confidence (41) 60%
Effective conduct of public affairs (36) 57%
Otherwise accessible (21) 53%
National security (24) 50%
Formulation of government policy (35) 31%
Commercial interests (43) 28%
Intended for future publication (22) 25%
Audit functions (33) 8%
Some caveats need to be noted: This only involves cases where a formal Decision Notice has been issued by the Commissioner; in some cases he approves the use of one exemption while rejecting another, so it's not a guide to the overall outcome of cases; in some cases the use of an exemption is partially approved - this has been scored as 0.5 of an approval for the purpose of calculating the percentages; it takes no account of the Commissioner sometimes being overruled by the Tribunal; it doesn't cover cases under the Environmental Information Regulations; it doesn't include decisions from the last few days; for some exemptions (eg national security, audit functions, court records, the economy, security services, future publication) there are under 10 cases and this makes it difficult to read much into the percentage scores.
For these reasons this is a fairly crude exercise. However it does suggest some broad, tentative conclusions - that the Commissioner is more easily persuaded that it is right to exempt information from disclosure to protect legal privilege and international relations than to protect commercial interests and the formulation of government policy.
This may reflect the Commissioner's attitudes - or it may reflect the sort of issues where public authorities seek to use an exemption when it is not justified by the circumstances.