Wednesday, March 14, 2012


date: Thu, 22 May 2008 16:28:22 +0100
from: "Palmer Dave Mr \(LIB\)" <>
subject: RE: Freedom of Information Act request (FOI_08-23)
to: "Briffa Keith Prof \(ENV\)" <>, "Mcgarvie Michael Mr \(ACAD\)" <>, "Osborn Timothy Dr \(ENV\)" <>, "Jones Philip Prof \(ENV\)" <>

Keith [et al],
I had promised yesterday to provide you with an exposition on the s.14(1) 'exemption' for
vexatious requests.

Section 14(1) merely states:
"Section 1(1) does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information
if the request is vexatious."

There has been much discussion about what constitutes a vexatious request and IC0 updated
it's guidance last year.

To quote the guidance:

While giving maximum support to individuals genuinely seeking to exercise the right to
know, the Commissioner's general approach is that a request (which may be the latest in a
series of requests) can be treated as vexatious where:

o it would impose a significant burden on the public authority in terms of expense or

and meets at least one of the following criteria.
o It clearly does not have any serious purpose or value
o It is designed to cause disruption or annoyance
o It has the effect of harassing the public authority
o It can otherwise fairly be characterised as obsessive or manifestly unreasonable.

To determine whether a request imposes a significant burden, a public authority should
consider whether complying with the request would cause it to divert a disproportionate
amount of resources from its core business. However, where the only concern of the public
authority is the burden on resources of complying with a request, it should instead
consider whether it would be more appropriate to apply section 12 (exemption where cost of
compliance exceeds appropriate limit).

The question for us is whether there is a 'significant burden' on UEA imposed by this
request, and then whether any of the other considerations are met. My take is as follows:

1. There is a burden on the organisation but how significant is it, and can it be addressed
via section 12? (In the cases cited by the guidance the burden has been much greater than
what we would be facing both in number of requests and hours taken)

2. The request does have a serious (if misguided) purpose, it is not designed solely to
cause disruption, and it would be a stretch to characterise it as obsessive or manifestly
unreasonable. ( The ICO states that an apparently tedious or spurious request, which in
fact relates to a genuine concern, must not be dismissed. But a public authority is not
obliged to comply with a request which a reasonable person would describe as obsessive or
manifestly unreasonable.)

3. As to 'harassing' us, most of the guidance and jurisprudence on this relates to repeated
requests; it also noted that intemperate language is not itself harassment but can
contribute to the finding of harassment where it is extreme - I'm not sure that one,
singular request would be found to be 'harassment'

The other issue from a pragmatic point of view is that adjudging the request to be
vexatious will be like waving a red flag to a bull.... We can almost guarantee an appeal
and further requests.... If we deal with it straight up under s.12, s.41 etc, then any
further similar requests begin to very much appear as vexatious; one of the grounds for
finding a request 'manifestly unreasonable' is the fact that the matter has already been
addressed/answered, or where the answer to one request is taken as the starting point for
the next request - this has also been shown to be evidence that a request has 'no serious
purpose or value'....

I am happy to engage in a discussion on this matter but my advice would be that a claim of
vexatiousness would be difficult to maintain for this request alone....

Cheers, Dave

>-----Original Message-----
>From: Keith Briffa [[1]]
>Sent: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 5:07 PM
>To: Palmer Dave Mr (LIB); Mcgarvie Michael Mr (ACAD); Osborn
>Timothy Dr (ENV); Jones Philip Prof (ENV)
>Subject: Re: Freedom of Information Act request (FOI_08-23)
>Hi Dave
>Holland acknowledged receipt - and said he would read my letter over
>last weekend. I have heard nothing since. I am happy for you to send
>the query but I suspect he will still pursue the original request. I
>would prefer that we simply answer that his request is unreasonable -
>and decline. We could also state that virtually all Chapter 6 authors
>have declined/prohibited the release o their correspondence. This is
>a matter a principal as far as I see it and we should not fall into
>the trap of claiming time constraint, which would imply likely
>compliance with further , less demanding requests.
>At 16:51 21/05/2008, Palmer Dave Mr \(LIB\) wrote:
>>Yesterday was 2 weeks to the deadline on this matter. (3 June)
>>Keith - any response to your letter as yet from Mr. Holland?
>>We had discussed inquiring whether this response would satisfy Mr.
>>Holland but I'm not sure whether we had decided who was going to make
>>the approach to Mr. Holland. I am happy to do something
>along the lines
>>of ....
>>"I understand that Prof. Briffa has made a response to your
>letter of 31
>>March. Does this in any way alter the scope of your request
>under this
>>Act or in fact effect your desire to continue with this request?"
>>Pretty clear what our 'intention' is but I feel the requester is not
>>going to be any more upset with us for having asked the
>question... Your
>>Will be working on draft response to share with you shortly
>>Cheers, Dave
>> >-----Original Message-----
>> >From: Keith Briffa [[2]]
>> >Sent: Thursday, May 15, 2008 1:49 PM
>> >To: Palmer Dave Mr (LIB); Mcgarvie Michael Mr (ACAD); Osborn
>> >Timothy Dr (ENV); Jones Philip Prof (ENV)
>> >Subject:
>> >
>> >Dave, Michael, Tim and Phil
>> >I have now considered all your thoughtful and helpful
>comments and on
>> >the basis of them have decided to send the attached response to
>> >Holland. Unless I hear anything to the contrary from you , I intend
>> >to send this letter as a pdf response by email to Holland tomorrow
>> >morning. I believe that my responses offer some personal comments
>> >while protecting the confidentiality of author interactions. By
>> >providing this reply I hope that it will be considered that
>I did not
>> >dismiss Holland's questions out of hand. I do not believe that this
>> >letter compromises or undermines the IPCC reporting process in any
>> >way and it clearly indicates that further correspondence will not be
>> >entered into on the matter. Hope you all agree.
>> >thanks again
>> >Keith
>> >
>> >--
>> >Professor Keith Briffa,
>> >Climatic Research Unit
>> >University of East Anglia
>> >Norwich, NR4 7TJ, U.K.
>> >
>> >Phone: +44-1603-593909
>> >Fax: +44-1603-507784
>> >
>> >[3]
>> >
>Professor Keith Briffa,
>Climatic Research Unit
>University of East Anglia
>Norwich, NR4 7TJ, U.K.
>Phone: +44-1603-593909
>Fax: +44-1603-507784

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