Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Information Commission backs council on tax disclosure

The Information Commission has just emailed me its ruling about whether Cornwall Council was right to keep secret the identities of those councillors who had to be taken to court for non-payment of council tax. The Commission rules in favour of the council, and against me.
The full ruling is here: FS50410847.pdf

Of particular interest, in my humble opinion, is the decision in relation to where information was held in magistrates' court records:
"...Access to court records is made via application to the court and is at the discretion of the judge who will consider whether disclosure is necessary to ensure that justice is seen to be done. The factors that a public authority must consider when deciding whether disclosure under the FOIA would breach the first data protection principle are different....
"It was recognised that data is disclosed in court and could be reported....... However, it concluded that later disclosure would be unfair because...in practice public knowledge of the issues is only short lived and may be limited to only a small number of people. Even where cases are reported in newspapers this does not lead to the establishment of a comprehensive, searchable database of offenders."

I need to speak to my BBC bosses about whether to pursue an appeal - but my immediate reaction is that 21st century technology has already moved us well beyond a situation where cases are merely reported in newspapers. The "establishment of a comprehensive, searchable database" is only a few search engines away.

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