25th June 2014
Freedom of Information. Another victory over Wirral Council’s legal “team”.
Yesterday, an email came in from WhatDoTheyKnow.com …
This response is another calculated exercise in minimisation and a muddying of the water, couched in the blandest and most tedious of legal terms, but don’t be deceived.
This is a climbdown.
Here’s a handy photo of some “team” members from the Wirral Leader’s blog.
Over the last two years, in response to probing, but otherwise innocuous freedom of information requests, the “team” has combined the awesome power of their collective legal minds, and has clubbed together to issue a total of three rebuttals, in which they’ve claimed that my requests are ‘vexatious’ – a term which is not defined in law (at least not yet) but is now serving, nationwide, as a kind of ‘catch all’ means of refusing people information to which they should otherwise be very much entitled.
They’ve also claimed within this 3rd refusal that I’d accused them of lying, which frankly is perverse. The impartial onlooker would spot immediately that it was their competence, always under question, that was at the heart of this.
The almost hairtrigger resort to ‘vexatious’ or Section 14 has been booming of late, not just here on Wirral, but nationally, and is now making a mockery of three crucial words within the title of the relevant legislation – The Freedom of Information Act 2000.
The only persons left denying this state of affairs are various lawyers, data / information professionals, certain journalists, volunteer geeks, etc. all making a killing or building a career from the goose that continues to lay golden eggs in the form of salaries, opportunities, training days, or reams of scandalising copy churned out by the respective media titles, publicly or privately owned.
These are the same old names, those who’ve long become accustomed to laying prostrate, keeping shtum, or bending to the will of their respective owners and manipulators within the UK legal establishment… as long as the terms are good and the rewards keep them in holidays in the south of France.
If the cash or inducements ever disappeared, so too would they.
I believe since Judge Wikeley of the Upper Tribunal had the Information Commissioner jumping through ‘vexatious’ hoops and hotfooting it back to leafy Cheshire to rewrite his own guidance around Section 14 requests, there have been 100s of councils, NHS trusts, Police Authorities, etc. etc. only too keen to block access using the Wikeley / Dransfield decision (long under appeal) as a court authority.
I’m not certain on the legality of this action. Some tell me it’s highly dubious – but many of these decisions have been backed up and supported by the ‘impartial regulator’, that stalwart protector of the free and fair flow of information, the ICO.
On a public interest score, I thought I could do something a little different, and as we, the public, had all been given some brighter, fresher guidance to ponder, I set about using it to everyone’s advantage.
Like a manic game of Whack-A-Mole, here was a club to beat Wirral Council with repeatedly, as they made bone-headed, opportunistic lunges towards the ‘vexatious’ rebuttal.
And I’ve now scored a hat-trick.
Three times, as they faced demands for openness and transparency about their questionable activities – three times, they lunged for Section 14.
And three times, I’ve whacked the Wirral Council mole over the head and sent their hideously deluded collection of lawyers, misfits, deniers and data geeks scurrying back into the town hall to lick their wounds.