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Council fails in appeal that FOI requester was vexatious over parking charges

The First-tier Tribunal has rejected a claim by the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham that a resident made vexatious freedom of information requests in relation to parking charges.

In London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham v Information Commissioner & Mr Andrew Ashe (Dismissed : Freedom of Information Act 2000) [2018] UKFTT 2017_0198 (GRC) the tribunal upheld a decision against the council by the Information Commissioner.

Local resident Andrew Ashe made requests during 2016-17 relating to the council’s use of CCTV in parking enforcement and the issuing of parking charge notices.

The council said compliance with his request would place an unreasonable burden on it as the search criteria provided had located 100 emails, many with attachments.

It asked Mr Ashe to revise his search criteria, which he declined to do as he had already narrowed the parameters of an earlier request.

Hammersmith and Fulham said Mr Ashe appeared to suspect that it was suppressing information and so had adopted a ‘scattergun’ approach.

The commissioner had felt that Mr Ashe was not unreasonably persistent or obsessive, and that the council could meet his requests without undue burden.

In appealing to the tribunal, the council argued that the commissioner applied the wrong test for vexatiousness and reached the wrong conclusion on the public interest of the requested information.

The tribunal ruled that a “clear and substantial public interest in the subject matter of the request has been established” and that Mr Ashe’s requests had value and a serious purpose.

It rejected the council’s assumption that Mr Ashe was “intransigent” and said that even if the council would have to disclose 100 emails this was “comparable to the average request received by public authorities, and far from the high threshold engaged [for vexatiousness]”.

Mark Smulian