Tribunal Upholds DVLA's Refusal to Disclose Information in Faisal A Qureshi v The Information Commissioner Case

Citation: [2024] UKFTT 17 (GRC)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Faisal A Qureshi v The Information Commissioner, the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) on Information Rights was presented with an appeal concerning the refusal to disclose information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). The key legal themes revolve around the exemptions to disclosure under FOIA, specifically relating to an actionable breach of confidence (section 41(1)) and vexatious requests (section 14(1)). This article analyses the key topics and legal principles upheld by the Tribunal, which are pertinent to legal professionals in the UK.

Key Facts

The Appellant, Faisal A Qureshi, a researcher and journalist, requested information from the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) concerning the driving licence application for an individual named Elaine Antoinette Parent. Initially, the DVLA refused the request as vexatious then shifted to neither confirm nor deny holding the information, citing a breach of confidence (section 41(2)). The DVLA maintained its position post-internal review, which led to the Appellant lodging a complaint with the Information Commissioner.

The Information Commissioner advised the DVLA to reconsider its handling of the request and ultimately upheld the decision to withhold information under section 41(1), triggering the current appeal.

The Tribunal’s analysis concentrated on the application of section 41(1) of FOIA, which exempts public authorities from disclosing information obtained from another person if such disclosure would constitute an actionable breach of confidence. Decision Notice IC-115824-X0W0, cited by the Tribunal, laid out conditions for information to have the requisite quality of confidence, stating it must be non-trivial and not publicly accessible.

The Tribunal assessed whether an obligation of confidence existed around the requested information, noting the importance of the confidentiality clause found in the DVLA’s application guidance. Moreover, the DVLA’s own policies explicitly indicate the confidentiality surrounding personal data submitted during the licence application process, bolstering the view that such information is imparted under an implicit duty of confidence.

The principle of public interest was also considered, with ECJ decisions such as “Faisal Qureshi v Information Commissioner, EA/2021/0177P” invoked as relevant case law. The Tribunal evaluated the balance between maintaining confidentiality and the public interest in disclosure, ultimately deciding that the unique circumstances in the current case did not warrant breaching the confidence due to the information’s availability from other sources, such as the US authorities, acknowledging the exceptional nature of this case.

Outcomes

The Tribunal concluded that the DVLA was entitled to rely on section 41(1) to withhold the information requested by the Appellant. The Tribunal dismissed the appeal, affirming the public authority’s position that the information was given in confidence and that releasing it would be an actionable breach of that confidence. The Tribunal further noted that the release of such information could undermine the principle of confidentiality and the public authority’s ability to carry out its functions, even in the wake of strong public interest arguments.

Conclusion

The decision in Faisal A Qureshi v The Information Commissioner underscores the significance of the confidentiality principle within the FOIA framework and the limitations placed on the public’s right to access certain types of information. It echoes the need for balancing transparency with the preservation of confidence in public authorities. Legal professionals are reminded of the meticulous application of FOIA exemptions by the Tribunal, along with the careful consideration of the public interest in relation to the specific circumstances of individual cases. This case sets a significant precedent on the interpretation of actionable breaches of confidence in relation to FOIA requests, and its ramifications will be pivotal in similar future instances.

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