Guidance Note 3: Exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act provides individuals with a right of access to recorded information held by public authorities.
To comply with the Act, on receipt of an information request, the University must:
- confirm or deny whether the information specified in the request exists and is held by the University or on behalf of the University, and
- under all reasonable circumstances, communicate the information , in the manner requested.
The exemptions remove this right of access to information, and there are two types of exemption in the Freedom of Information Act: Absolute and Qualified. Some of these are class-based exemptions, and only apply to certain classes of information, whilst others are prejudice-based exemptions which require a prejudice test of some kind. Detailed explanations and guidance on the application of each exemption can be found on the DCA or Information Commissioner's website by following the links below. The exemptions that are most relevant to the University are highlighted, and described in more detail with practical examples of information that might be covered included wherever possible.
If an exemption applies, then the information will not be disclosed, unless there is a strong public interest to do so. However, it is important to note that even if an exemption applies that prevents disclosure, there may still be a requirement to inform the applicant that the information exists (the duty to confirm or deny).
Seek advice from Registry if you receive a request for information that you believe to be exempt.
If an Absolute exemption applies the University is not required to consider the public interest. Generally, this means there will be no right of access to the information under the FOI Act. However, the University must provide sufficient advice and assistance to the applicant in order to comply with s16 FOIA.
- Section 21 Information accessible to applicant by other means
- Section 23 Information supplied by, or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters (a certificate signed by a Minister of the Crown is conclusive proof that the exemption is justified. There is a separate appeals mechanism against such certificates)
- Section 32 Court records, etc
- Section 34 Parliamentary privilege (a certificate signed by the Speaker of the House, in respect of the House of Commons, or by the Clerk of the Parliaments, in respect of the House of Lords is conclusive proof that the exemption is justified.)
- Section 36 Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs (only applies to information held by House of Commons or House of Lords)
- Section 40 Personal information
- Section 41 Information provided in confidence.
- Section 44 Prohibitions on disclosure where a disclosure is prohibited by an enactment or would constitute contempt of court.
All Qualified exemptions require a Public Interest Test, which means that, even if the information falls within the scope of one of these exemptions, it is necessary to consider, on a case-by-case basis whether it is in the public interest to disclose the information.
Only in circumstances whereby the public interest is better served to maintain the exemption, rather than disclose the information, can the University legitimately refuse access. On refusing access, the applicant must be informed of the reasoning behind the decision, unless doing so would mean releasing the exempt information.
- Section 22 Information intended for future publication
- Section 24 National security (other than information supplied by or relating to named security organisations, where the duty to consider disclosure in the public interest does not arise.)
- Section 26 Defence
- Section 27 International relations
- Section 28 Relations within the United Kingdom
- Section 29 The economy
- Section 30 Investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities
- Section 31 Law enforcement
- Section 33 Audit Functions
- Section 35 Formulation of government policy, etc
- Section 36 Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs
- Section 37 Communications with Her Majesty, etc and honours
- Section 38 Health and safety
- Section 39 Environmental information
- Section 40 Personal information
- Section 42 Legal professional privilege
- Section 43 Commercial interests
Further explanation and guidance on Exemptions:
Information Commissioner's website:http://www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk