Tribunal Rules in Favor of Medical Practice in Contempt Application Over FOIA Compliance

Citation: [2024] UKFTT 92 (GRC)
Judgment on


In the case of Gary Spiers v Garstang Medical Practice, the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) [2024] UKFTT 92 (GRC) was tasked with determining if there was a failure to comply with a Substituted Decision Notice that could constitute contempt of court. This article presents an analysis of the key topics and legal principles discussed in the Tribunal’s decision, as well as the outcome of the application.

Key Facts

Gary Spiers (the Applicant) sought disclosure of certain documents from Garstang Medical Practice (the Respondent) under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). Initially, the request was deemed vexatious, but upon appeal (EA/2019/0317), the Tribunal ruled in favor of the Applicant, ordering the Respondent to disclose the information unless alternative exemptions applied.

The crux of the application for contempt concerned whether the information provided to the Applicant by the Respondent, the NHS England Standard General Medical Services (GMS) Contract for 2017/18, was sufficient to satisfy the Tribunal’s substituted decision notice.

Several legal principles underpin the Tribunal’s decision:

  1. Jurisdiction and Enforceability: Tribunals have no power to compel a public authority to comply with a substituted decision notice. However, they may certify an offence of contempt as an incentive for compliance (s61 FOIA).

  2. Certification of Contempt: Applications for certification must include sufficient details, providing clarity on what constitutes the alleged contempt and align with Rule 7A of The Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (General Regulatory Chamber) Rules 2009.

  3. Clarity and Certainty: For an order to be enforceable, it must be in clear, unambiguous language, enabling the affected person to know precisely what they are required to do (Harris v Harris [2001] 2 FLR 895).

  4. Mens Rea in Contempt Proceedings: The intent to breach an order or undertaking is generally necessary to establish contempt. However, deliberate acts or omissions in question are the focus, rather than motive (Navigator Equities Ltd & another v Deripaska [2021] EWCA Civ 1799).

  5. Proportionality and Legitimate Ends: A committal application must be proportionate to the conduct alleged and not pursued for improper collateral purposes (ibid.).

  6. Full Merits Appeal (de novo): The Tribunal has jurisdiction to conduct a full review of the Commissioner’s handling of the decision under appeal (Birkett v Defra and IC[2012] AACR 32).

In this particular case, the Tribunal examined whether the Respondent’s provision of the standard GMS contract was sufficient to satisfy the information request under the original FOIA. The Tribunal also considered the clarity of the Substituted Decision Notice and whether any act or omission by the Respondent in relation to the Tribunal’s proceedings would amount to contempt of court if assessed by a court with the power to commit for contempt.


The Tribunal concluded that the Practice’s provision of the NHS England Standard General Medical Services Contract 2017/18 met the obligation imposed upon them by the Tribunal’s substituted decision notice. Therefore, the Practice was not guilty of an act or omission that would constitute contempt of court. As a result, there was no need to exercise discretion to certify contempt to the Upper Tribunal.


The Tribunal’s analysis in Gary Spiers v Garstang Medical Practice reaffirms vital legal tenets regarding the enforcement of Tribunal decisions and the certification of contempt under FOIA. It underscores the need for clear and unambiguous orders, the intent behind actions in contempt proceedings, and the jurisdictional limits of the Tribunal concerning enforcement of its decisions. The outcome serves as a reminder for public authorities and applicants about the importance of compliance and the precise scope of Tribunal orders. It also clarifies the procedural approach that must be adopted when considering whether non-compliance with a Tribunal decision warrants certification of contempt.