1. In the present case the Council takes the view that certain information contained within elected Member and Officer Related Party Returns for the financial year 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017 is exempt from disclosure under Section 40(2)(a) and (3)(a)(i) of the Act as it comprises the personal data of family members of elected Members and Officers respectively, and the release of this personal data into the public domain would contravene a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 ('the DPA').
The term “personal data” is defined in the DPA and means any personal information held in a filing system that relates to a living individual who can be identified from the data, whether by name or otherwise. The information must not only name or refer to an individual, but must also be biographical in a significant extent and have the data subject as its focus. For the information to constitute personal data it must relate in some way to information affecting the individual's privacy, whether in their personal or family life or professional capacity.
The information contained within the Related Party Returns would enable elected Members and Officers and their respective family members to be identified either directly from the information concerned or in conjunction with other information that may already be in the public domain.
To determine whether or not it may disclose personal data under the Act, the Council has considered the relevant provisions of the DPA. If the personal data is about someone other than the applicant there is an exemption if disclosure would breach any of the Data Protection Principles defined in Part I of Schedule 1 to the DPA. The relevant Data Protection Principles in this particular case is the first one, which states:
Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully and, in particular, shall not be processed unless-
(a) at least one of the conditions in Schedule 2 is met, and
(b) in the case of sensitive personal data, at least one of the conditions in Schedule 3 is also met
Where disclosure by a public authority of the personal data held would contravene the First Data Protection Principle, it is absolutely exempt from disclosure under the Act.
We have carefully considered whether it would be fair to disclose the personal information of elected Members, Council officers and their respective family members in all the circumstances. In assessing whether the disclosure of the personal information would be fair to all the individuals considered we have taken into account the following factors:
- whether the information is sensitive personal data;
- the possible consequences of disclosure on the individuals concerned;
- the reasonable expectations of the individual, taking into account: their expectations both at the time the information was collected and at the time of your request, the nature of the information itself; the circumstances in which the information was obtained; whether the information is already in the public domain; the freedom of information principles of transparency and accountability;
- any legitimate interests in the public having access to the personal data held by the Council and the balance between these and the rights of privacy of the individuals who are the data subjects
Save for the disclosure of the personal data of elected Members and Officers enclosed herewith, we have concluded that disclosing the identities of individual family members of elected Members and Officers respectively would be unfair to the individuals concerned. The Related Party Returns, including the third party personal data contained within the Declarations, are required for internal accounting and auditing purposes only. The withheld third party personal information is not publicly available information and the Council is of the view that family members (of elected Members and officers respectively) would have a reasonable expectation that their personal information would remain confidential and would not be released by the Council under access to information legislation. We acknowledge that the expectation of the individual is not paramount. Those in public office cannot have the same expectations as to their data as others. However, in this particular case we do not consider individual family members can have the same expectations as public officials regarding the disclosure of their personal data.
Furthermore, the Council does not have the consent of the data subjects to release their personal information to you, or to the public at large.
We have also considered the potential consequences of disclosure of the third party personal information on the individuals concerned. We are mindful that once personal information is released into the public domain it is particularly difficult for an individual to exert influence and control over how their personal information may be used. Whilst we acknowledge that there is a legitimate public interest in members of the public seeking information about a public authority, including personal information about elected members and senior public officials, we consider the disclosure of certain third party personal data into the public domain would, or would be likely to, cause unnecessary or unjustified damage or distress to the persons the information is about.
Moreover, the Council does not consider the legitimate public interest in disclosure of the information in this particular case overrides the individual’s right to privacy.
In summary, we are withholding only the names of family members of elected Members and officers as disclosure of the same would, in our view, contravene a breach of fair processing under the First Data Protection Principle. The withheld personal data is thereby exempt from disclosure under section 40(2) and (3)(a)(i) of the Act.
If you wish to view the redacted related party returns please contact Shirley Hall on 01670 622875 or firstname.lastname@example.org who will arrange a date and time for you to visit.
2. The External Auditor's report is contained within the Council's Statement of Accounts which can be found via the following link:
3. In accordance with Section 1(a) of the Act, Northumberland County Council confirms that it holds the information you requested.
In the present case the County Council takes the view that the information relating to your request is exempt under Section 30 of the Act. The full text of the exemption is covered below.
Public Interest Test Considerations
Section 30 is a qualified exemption which means that the information falling within the exemption still has to be released unless the public interest in disclosure is outweighed by the public interest in maintaining the exemption.
The reasons why the public interest favours disclosing the information:
Promote transparency and build public confidence in Northumberland CC’s investigative process;
Secure the health and safety of employees and others;
The reasons why the public interest favours withholding the information:
Impede an ongoing investigations by hampering the gathering of information and evidence;
Inhibit authorities ability to conduct future investigations effectively because, for example, third parties may be less willing to volunteer information to the authority if information is disclosed inappropriately;
Reduce the chances of a successful prosecution should the investigation conclude that this course of action is appropriate;
Be unfair in cases where a decision is taken not to proceed to prosecution or in cases where no material breach is found.
The Council has considered the above and has determined that the public interest in withholding the information in this matter outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
4. The Council will be considering this matter in the new year but the precise date has not yet been decided. Also, we are unable to say at this point in time whether or not the public will be allowed to attend the meeting in relation to this matter. Once the report has been written, and the content considered it may be deemed appropriate to consider the report in private session.
5. This is exempt from disclosure under Section 40(2)(a) and (3)(a)(i) of the Act as it comprises the personal data which would identify specific Officers, and the release of this personal data into the public domain would contravene a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 ('the DPA').
The Freedom of Information Act sets out various exemptions to the right of access.
Section 30 – Investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities.
(1)Information held by a public authority is exempt information if it has at any time been held by the authority for the purposes of—
(a)any investigation which the public authority has a duty to conduct with a view to it being ascertained—
(i)whether a person should be charged with an offence, or
(ii)whether a person charged with an offence is guilty of it,
(b)any investigation which is conducted by the authority and in the circumstances may lead to a decision by the authority to institute criminal proceedings which the authority has power to conduct, or
(c)any criminal proceedings which the authority has power to conduct.
(2) Information held by a public authority is exempt information if:
(a) it was obtained or recorded by the authority for the purposes of its functions relating to:
(i) investigations falling within subsection (1)(a) or (b),
(ii) criminal proceedings which the authority has power to conduct,
(iii) investigations (other than investigations falling within subsection (1)(a) or (b)) which are conducted by the authority for any of the purposes specified in section 31(2) and either by virtue of Her Majesty’s prerogative or by virtue of powers conferred by or under any enactment, or
(iv) civil proceedings which are brought by or on behalf of the authority and arise out of such investigations, and
(b) it relates to the obtaining of information from confidential sources.
Section 40 - Personal information .
(1) Any information to which a request for information relates is exempt information if it constitutes personal data of which the applicant is the data subject.
(2) Any information to which a request for information relates is also exempt information if-
(3) The first condition is-
(a) it constitutes personal data which do not fall within subsection (1), and
(b) either the first or the second condition below is satisfied.
(a) in a case where the information falls within any of paragraphs (a) to (d) of the definition of "data" in section 1(1) of the Data Protection Act 1998, that the disclosure of the information to a member of the public otherwise than under this Act would contravene-
(i) any of the data protection principles, or
(ii) section 10 of that Act (right to prevent processing likely to cause damage or distress), and
(b) in any other case, that the disclosure of the information to a member of the public otherwise than under this Act would contravene any of the data protection principles if the exemptions in section 33A(1) of the Data Protection Act 1998 (which relate to manual data held by public authorities) were disregarded.
(4) The second condition is that by virtue of any provision of Part IV of the Data Protection Act 1998 the information is exempt from section 7(1)(c) of that Act (data subject's right of access to personal data).