Case law article highlights importance of confidentiality and public interest in FOIA application

Citation: [2024] UKFTT 16 (GRC)
Judgment on

Introduction

The case “Faisal A Qureshi v The Information Commissioner & Anor [2024] UKFTT 16 (GRC)” revolves around the FOIA’s (Freedom of Information Act 2000) application, specifically the grounds for withholding information under sections 41(1) and 31(1)(c). The case examines the boundaries of confidentiality and the public interest in the context of a request for information made to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency).

Key Facts

Faisal A Qureshi, acting as a Litigant in Person, sought the driving licence application of deceased Salman Abedi from the DVLA. The DVLA refused the request citing confidentiality and the potential for prejudice to law enforcement (s41(1) and s31(1)(c) of the FOIA, respectively). Qureshi appealed the decision by the Information Commissioner supporting DVLA’s refusal. The Tribunal heard the case on papers and, for efficiency’s sake, consolidated the appeal with a similar preceding case (Ref: EA/2022/0403).

Actionable Breach of Confidence

Central to this case is the principle of an actionable breach of confidence under s.41(1) of the FOIA, requiring information:

  1. To be provided in confidence by another person/entity.
  2. To have the necessary quality of confidence.
  3. To have been imparted such that an obligation of confidence is implied.
  4. To not be disclosed without authorization, which would be to the detriment of the confider.

In applying these principles, as detailed in Coco v A N Clark (Engineers) Limited [1968] FSR 415, the Tribunal agreed with the Commissioner that DVLA’s refusal was well-grounded on the grounds of confidentiality.

Public Interest Test

Although s.41(1) is an absolute exemption, it encompasses a public interest defense which was thoroughly considered. The Tribunal, agreeing with the Commissioner, decided that disclosure is not warranted even in the public interest as the public interest in maintaining confidentiality outweighs the interest in disclosure, taking into account the reasoning in previous case law such as Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform v IC and Friends of the Earth (EA/2007/0072) and Bluck v IC and Epsom and St Helier University NHS Trust (EA/2006/0090).

Outcomes

The Tribunal dismissed the appeal, upholding the Commissioner’s decision that the DVLA was correct in applying the s.41(1) exemption under the FOIA and that there was no compelling public interest that would mandate the disclosure of the requested information.

Conclusion

In conclusion, “Faisal A Qureshi v The Information Commissioner & Anor” reaffirms the robust protection of confidential information provided to public authorities, emphasizing the stringent requirements for an actionable breach of confidence and the high threshold for overriding such confidence in the public interest. The decision reflects the careful balancing act between transparency and the obligation to protect sensitive information against unauthorized disclosure, a core tenet of the FOIA.

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