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Home Office v. Information Commissioner & Wickström [2012] UKFTT EA/2011/0203

DATE: 27 Mar 2012

In this case, the UK Border Agency responded to a freedom of information request for  certain internal documentation by providing the documentation in question but redacting the names of certain Higher Executive Officers and Senior Executive Officers. UKBA contended that the disclosure of names of staff at this level would breach the First Data Protection Principle (on the basis that it was not “necessary for the purposes of legitimate interests” and/or was “unwarranted by reason of prejudice to the rights and freedoms or legitimate interests of the data subject”) and was thus exempt under s.40 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The Information Commissioner rejected this argument, drawing an analogy with the practice of his own department in which it was policy to disclose the names of staff at Level D, which the Commissioner considered to be an analogous level to HEOs and SEOs.

The Home Office (of which UKBA is an executive agency) appealed to the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights). Following a one-day hearing, at which evidence was heard from UKBA’s Human Resources Director as well as the line manager of the staff in question, the Tribunal allowed the appeal, holding that there was “no need for the public to know the identity of an individual who does no more than communicate basic policy detail” as opposed to those in the higher levels of the civil service who take responsibility for the development of policy. The Tribunal was critical of the Information Commissioner being influenced in his decision by the practice of his own office.

Charles Banner acted for the Home Office, instructed by the Treasury Solicitor.