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					FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000

EXEMPTIONS

Exemptions Under the Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act has two categories of exemptions; absolute and qualified. Absolute Exemption Where an absolute exemption applies there is no requirement for the Authority to disclose the information. The Authority may refuse to disclose the information quoting the exemption and reasons it applies. There are eight absolute exemptions within the Act, of which not all exemptions will apply to the Authority. If the information that has been requested falls into the category mentioned in one of these exemptions, the Authority is not required to release the information. There is no requirement to consider whether releasing the information requested would prejudice a particular activity or interest. Qualified Exemption (subject to the public interest test) The Authority has a duty to consider whether the disclosure is required in the public interest. It is the duty of the Authority to conduct a public interest test to determine whether withholding information requested outweighs the public interest in disclosing it, for example where disclosure of information would harm a police investigation. It should be noted that what is in the public interest is not necessarily the same as that which may be of interest to the public (it may be subject of public curiosity). Before issuing an exemption the Authority must consider a number of questions: Is the information covered by an exemption? Does the exemption apply to part or all of the information requested? If an exemption does apply, does it require consideration of whether disclosure should be made in the public interest, irrespective of the exemption? Only information to which the exemption applies can be withheld. For example if a requested document contains some exempt information, only those specific pieces of exempt information can be withheld and the rest of the document has to be released. If the Authority decides an exemption applies and withholds information, it must give reasons for its decision and inform the applicant of their right to complain to the Information Commissioner.

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Absolute Exemptions
Information Accessible to the applicant by other means (section 21) The Authority does not have to respond to the request if the information is readily available in the public domain. It is the duty of the Authority to give assistance and advice to direct the applicant to where the information is in the publication scheme. Information supplied by, or relating to, dealing with security matter (section 23) Information held by the authority is exempt if it is directly or indirectly supplied to the authority, or relates to, any of the organizations listed in the section. Court Records (section 32) Information that is only held as part of the documentation for a court or tribunal case, or for a statutory inquiry. Personal Information (section 40) NB. There is an absolute exemption for subject access requests and in certain other situations. The public interest test will apply to third party requests. Subject access requests are decided under the terms of the Data Protection Act, not the Freedom of Information Act. Third party requests for personal information are decided in accordance with the Data Protection Principles, but within the overall framework of the Freedom of Information Act. Information Provided in Confidence (section 41) This exemption applies where disclosure would constitute a breach of confidence. Writing ‘confidential’ on a document is not enough. Legal Prohibitions on Disclosure (section 44) This applies to information the disclosure of which is prohibited by any legislation, or European Community obligation, or if disclosure would be a contempt of court.

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Qualified Exemptions (subject to the Public Interest Test)
Information Intended for Future Publication (section 22) Where the Authority plans to publish the information in the future, normally in its publication scheme and it is reasonable, at the time the request was made, not to disclose it until then. National Security (section 24) Information that is not covered by section 23 (Information supplied by, or relating to, dealing with security matter, an absolute exemption), but exemption is required to safeguard national security. Defence (section 26) Information that is likely to prejudice national defence or the armed forces. International Relations (section 27) Information that may prejudice the UK’s international relations or interests. Relations within the United Kingdom (section 28) Information likely to prejudice relations between the UK administrations: the UK government, the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish administration, and the executive committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Economy (section 29) Information that may prejudice the economic interests of the UK or part of the UK, or the financial interests of the government or any of the national administrations in the UK. Investigations and Proceedings Conducted by Public Authorities (section 30) This exemption covers information relevant to criminal investigations and proceedings, and information obtained from confidential sources for criminal or civil proceedings.

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Law Enforcement (section 31) Information which will prejudice the prevention or detection of crime, concerning the assessment or collection of any tax or duty, or relating to regulatory and enforcement activity. Audit (section 33) Applies to information held by public authorities which have functions relating to audit or examining the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the use of resources of other public authorities; information is exempt if it disclosure is likely to prejudice those functions. Formulation of government policy (section 35) Information held by a government department, relating to the formulation of government policy. Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs (section 36) This applies to information held by any public authority. With the exception of statistical information, a qualified person is required to operate the exemption. For local authorities in England are either a minister of the Crown someone authorised for this purpose by a minister. Communications with Her Majesty, etc. and Honours (section 37) This applies to information that relates to communications with Her Majesty, member of the Royal household, or the conferring of honours.

Health and Safety (section 38) This exemption applies to information that would, or would be likely to, endanger the physical, or mental health or safety of any individual.

Environmental Information (section 39) Environmental information does not fall within the Freedom of Information Act; it must be released in accordance with Environmental Information Regulations. If the information is subject to a discretionary exemption under the environmental regulations, then the FOI Act public interest
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would apply. Legal Professional Privilege (section 42) Information relating to ongoing litigation would never be released, however there may be a public interest test in releasing information such as general legal advice. Commercial Interests (section 43) This relates to information or trade secrets that will or likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any person, including the authority holding it.

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