Tribunal Upholds Decision: FOIA Exemption Prevents Disclosure of Operation Lydd Report in Edward Williams Case

Citation: [2023] UKFTT 1079 (GRC)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Edward Williams v Information Commissioner & Anor [2023] UKFTT 1079 (GRC), the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) Information Rights upheld the Information Commissioner’s decision, which dismissed the appeal filed by Edward Williams. The Tribunal’s decision centered on whether the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) exemptions applied to prevent disclosure of information requested about a report from Operation Lydd, which investigated potential UK involvement in renditions to Libya.

Key Facts

The appellant, Edward Williams, had sought access to a 400-page report resulting from Operation Lydd, concerning the alleged rendition to Libya and the ill-treatment of specific Libyan nationals. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (MPS) refused the request, invoking several exemptions under the FOIA: security matters (s.23), international relations (s.27), national security (s.24), investigations and proceedings (s.30), and personal information (s.40).

The Information Commissioner, upholding MPS’s decision, agreed that the complete report was exempt under s.23(1) of FOIA because it related to security bodies specified in subsection s.23(3). The Commissioner did not review the material due to its classified nature but relied on confidential submissions and publicly available information to make this determination.

The Tribunal laid out the legal framework underpinning its consideration, including that:

  1. Under s.58 of FOIA, the Tribunal is to conduct a full merits review and is entitled to make its own findings of fact and decide whether FOIA provisions have been correctly applied.
  2. Section 23 FOIA provides an absolute exemption if the information was supplied by, or relates to, bodies dealing with security matters specified in s.23(3).

By applying principles from relevant caselaw such as Information Commissioner v Malnick [2018] UKUT 72 (AAC) and Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis v Information Commissioner & Rosenbaum [2021] UKUT 5 (AAC), the Tribunal considered the nature of the report, the sources of information within it, and whether a full or partial release would be possible without disclosing exempt material.

Outcomes

Upon a detailed review, the Tribunal agreed with the Commissioner, stating the entire report was exempt from disclosure under s.23(1). Tribunal Judge Neville highlighted that:

  • The report is a comprehensive record derived substantially from secret intelligence services which fall under the bodies specified in s.23(3).
  • Redacting parts of the report related to s.23(3) bodies was not feasible because the entire document is intimately connected to - and in large parts composed of - information from these bodies.
  • The cohesive nature of the report and the fundamental role security bodies played in its composition rendered the entire document as one which “relates to” security matters.
  • The exemption is absolute, implying that public interest considerations do not apply, and there is no need to evaluate other potential exemptions.

Conclusion

The Tribunal’s decision in Edward Williams v Information Commissioner & Anor [2023] UKFTT 1079 (GRC) underscores the absolute nature of FOIA’s s.23(1) exemption related to information from security bodies. It demonstrates the Tribunal’s alignment with earlier jurisprudence on the application of FOIA and emphasizes the significance of protecting sensitive security-related information from public disclosure. The ruling illustrates the propensity of the Tribunal to take a meticulous, case-by-case approach when considering the applicability of FOIA exemptions, ensuring that the exemptions are not overextended while also preserving national security and related interests.

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