Public Interest Test Method Statement

1. Introduction

1.1 This method statement describes the mechanism and process by which the University will consider and weigh the public interest in relation to requests under Freedom of Information legislation. It forms part of the University Freedom of Information Policy.

1.2 Some of the exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), and all of the exceptions under the Environmental Information Regulations, are qualified. Qualified FoIA exemptions include, but are not limited to, those covering commercial interests, future publication, health and safety, law enforcement, legal privilege and the conduct of public affairs.

1.3 Notwithstanding its engagement, a qualified exemption is subject to a secondary test: to determine whether the public interest (i.e. public good) in applying the exemption (and thus withholding the information) is greater than that in disclosing the information. Applying the public interest test requires balancing competing interests.

1.4 This method statement should be used alongside policy and guidelines issued by the Information Governance Office and Office of the Information Commissioner which set out requirements and good practice.

2. Basis for consideration of the public interest

2.1 The public interest means the public good - as distinct from what is of interest to the public or the private interests of the requester.

2.2 Public interest tests will, wherever possible, occur within the normal time for compliance (20 working days).

2.3 The University will operate on the presumption that information should be disclosed.

2.4 It is for the University to consider the public interest arguments for and against disclosure and their relative weight, irrespective of the information’s creator or owner. The University will decide whether any harm or unfairness arising from disclosure is outweighed by the public interest in making the information available. This can be affected by the likelihood and severity of any prejudice; the age of the information; how far the requested information will help public understanding; and whether similar information is already in the public domain.

2.5 The 'public interest' is not a fixed concept and the balance of public interest may change over time. It may shift as information becomes older or in the light of issues of the day. The circumstances at the time of the request will be considered.

2.6 Where the University considers that the public interest in withholding the requested information outweighs the public interest in releasing it, it will inform the applicant of its reasons.

3. Procedure

3.1 The public interest test will be undertaken by the University’s Information Governance Officer (IGO) with input from relevant information owners.

3.2 When considering the public interest, the IGO will review:

  • The original request
  • The exemption(s) claimed and how/why they apply
  • The information under consideration, as appropriate
  • The public interest factors in favour of disclosure of information
  • Any proposed public interest factors weighing against the information’s disclosure
  • Copies of the Information Commissioner’s guidance on public interest tests

3.3 The IGO will consider and deliver:

  • Public interest factors for and against disclosure
  • A decision as to whether the public interest in maintaining the exemption is greater than that in disclosing the information.

Where it is determined that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs that in disclosure:

  • A clear exposition as to how the factors were weighed and why the University considers the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information. This will outline the reasoning the IGO has followed in arriving at the University's decision and why one factor, or set of factors, outweighs another (unless to do so would involve disclosure of exempt information).

4. Applicant’s rights

4.1 The right of applicants to challenge and appeal public interest and disclosure decision and seek a review of the handling of their request will be given in any refusal notice.

4.2 The applicant’s first recourse should be to the University, in line with its Complaints and Review Procedure. If an applicant remains dissatisfied with the outcome of the review and the University’s handling of their request they may seek a review from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

5. Oversight

5.1 The Information Security Board, chaired by the Director of Information, will monitor the effectiveness of this method statement and carry out regular reviews.

6. Further Information

ICO Specialist Guide: The Public Interest Test

Document history and status

05 December 2012 Approved by Information Policy Executive
13 December 2012 Approved by Information Security Board
29 January 2016 Reviewed and approved by Information Security Board
26 January 2017 Reviewed and approved by Information Security Board

Status

Review cycle: Three yearly

Date of next review: January 2020