Actual UK Local Authority quotes on the use of FOI / DP related “gagging clauses”
Both Cheshire West and Chester Council and Brent Borough Council have used a “gagging clause” within a compromise agreement to prevent former employees from getting at their information after leaving employment. Cheshire West and Chester are fully prepared to do it again in the future, whilst Brent insist theirs was a “temporary measure”.
The Information Commissioner regards this conduct as “likely to be in breach of the Act”.
Regardless of the apparent stripping away of statutory rights, the Local Government Association is firmly on the fence on this issue, stating that it’s entirely a matter for individual councils.
The following information was volunteered into the public domain – and represents the more revealing opinions of some of Cheshire and Brent’s fellow LGA members:
“We do not have any of these. We do not see how someone could by a compromise agreement deprive themselves of their statutory rights.”
– Halton Borough Council
“No staff (past or present) have signed any document purporting to limit their statutory rights to information under the Freedom of Information Act or Data Protection Act nor would we consider asking them to do so.”
– Uttlesford District Council
“Please note that a compromise agreement bars an individual from making a legal claim in exchange for money. This includes claims under the Data Protection Act 1998 (I believe S13 would apply), and there is a term
within our agreements which covers this – but this would not prevent anyone from making a subject access request under S7, and this right cannot be removed.”
– West Berkshire Council
“No employees have agreed nor indeed would we even think of requesting them to forgo their right to approach the council in the future with Freedom of Information and/or DPA Subject Access requests.”
– Harrogate Borough Council
“As far as we are aware, none of the compromise agreements we have entered
into have sought to remove or restrict a person’s rights to make FOI or subject access requests and we are doubtful a compromise agreement would be effective in that respect in any event.”
– Malvern Hills District Council
“In answer to your query, there have been no barriers placed in the way of any of the individuals concerned in relation to their legal right of access to information via any of the information access legislation.”
– Harborough District Council
“I am not aware that there are conditions in any of these agreements restricting the right of an individual to approach the Council in future for information via Freedom of Information and/or Data Protection. Indeed I would query whether any such conditions would be binding. I have read the 1998 agreement and the two agreements in 2008. In none of those agreements is there anything to be found that would restrict the right of the individual (at a future date) to access information via either Freedom of Information and / or Data Protection. This is as to be expected.”
– South Ribble Borough Council
“I cannot imagine a situation whereby this or any other council would encourage a signatory to a compromise agreement to forgo their statutory rights regarding FOI / DPA furthermore if any authority tried to do this I suspect it would be both unenforceable as an agreement and ultra vires (not within the powers of the council and therefore potentially unlawful). An individual has the right to access their own information via DPA or other information via FOI.”
– South Norfolk District Council