Tribunal Upholds Section 27 Exemption in Fanta v Information Commissioner Case, Emphasizing Importance of Protecting International Relations

Citation: [2023] UKFTT 908 (GRC)
Judgment on


The case “Alexandra Fanta v Information Commissioner” ([2023] UKFTT 908 (GRC)) involves the application of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“FOIA”) and explores the exemption in section 27 regarding international relations. The First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) Information Rights decided the appeal, which centers around the balance between the right to information and the public interest in maintaining certain exemptions due to potential prejudice to international relations. The Tribunal dismissed the appeal, upholding the Home Office’s reliance on the exemptions and the Information Commissioner’s decision.

Key Facts

The appellant, Alexandra Fanta, had requested information from the Home Office related to meetings and communications with Thorn, a US-based organization working against online child exploitation. The Home Office withheld the information, invoking exemptions under sections 27(1)(a) and (b) of the FOIA, which concern the potential prejudice to relationships between the UK and other states or international organizations. Fanta contended that the exemptions should not be applicable to information regarding a private nonprofit organization and that there was a strong public interest in the disclosure of the information. The Home Office cited concerns that disclosure could undermine trusted relationships with international partners and hamper ongoing sensitive discussions.

The Tribunal’s analysis focused on applying established legal principles under the FOIA. They cited Hogan v Information Commissioner and Department for Work and Pensions v Information Commissioner to define the approach for assessing prejudice. Key principles include identifying the interests protected by the exemption, determining the nature and likelihood of the prejudice, and balancing the public interest in disclosure against that in maintaining the exemption.

The Tribunal also considered the Upper Tribunal decisions in All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition v IC and Ministry of Defence and FCO v Information Commissioner and Plowden, reinforcing the idea that due deference should be given to the executive’s assessment of potentially prejudicial consequences of information disclosure on international relations.


The Tribunal decided that the section 27(1) exemption was engaged, dismissing the appellant’s argument on the basis that FOIA does not restrict the exemption solely to state organizations or entities. The Tribunal accepted the Home Office’s claim that disclosure would likely prejudice relations with other states and international organizations, emphasizing the sensitive ongoing nature of the discussions and Thorn’s significant role in policy debates. Accordingly, the Tribunal assessed that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed the interest in disclosure, due to the critical importance of international cooperation in addressing online child exploitation.


In summary, the Fanta v Information Commissioner case reaffirms the application of section 27 exemptions under the FOIA while underscoring the necessity of protecting international relations, particularly in the context of sensitive and ongoing policy discussions. The Tribunal upheld the exemptions claimed by the Home Office, recognizing the significant public interest in preserving the confidentiality of diplomatic engagements. Legal professionals are reminded of the high threshold for overturning an authority’s discretion under FOIA, especially when it involves the intricacies of international relations and anticipated detriment to the UK’s ability to collaborate on global issues. This case thereby serves as a guiding precedent for understanding the implications and application of section 27 of the FOIA.