Tribunal Upholds Decision to Reject Vexatious FOIA Request in Kennaugh v The Information Commissioner Case

Citation: [2024] UKFTT 128 (GRC)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Keith Kennaugh v The Information Commissioner ([2024] UKFTT 128 (GRC)), the First-tier Tribunal’s General Regulatory Chamber deliberated upon the vexatious nature of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The Appellant, Mr. Kennaugh, contested the Information Commissioner’s Decision Notice confirming the West Yorkshire Police’s (WYP) decision to deny his request under section 14(1) of FOIA on the grounds of vexatiousness. This article analyses the key topics discussed, the legal principles applied, and the outcome of the appeal.

Key Facts

The crux of the case lies in Mr. Kennaugh’s repeated attempts to obtain information from WYP concerning alleged criminal offenses he reported, which he believed involved prominent figures during the COVID pandemic. WYP rejected his requests as vexatious, citing his failure to provide proper personal details, the absence of recorded crimes as reported, and the Appellant’s presumed motive to investigate a suspicion of collusion between WYP and the Mayor’s office to impede justice.

The Tribunal applied several legal principles crucial in understanding this case:

Section 1 FOIA

The rights under Section 1 of FOIA establish that a public authority must inform the requester if it holds information and communicate it to them. However, the practical implementation is subject to limitations, especially with regard to appropriate usage of the act.

Section 14(1) FOIA

Section 14(1) of FOIA exempts a public authority from complying with a request if deemed vexatious. The Dransfield ruling ([2012] UKUT 440 (AAC)) and subsequent affirmation by the Court of Appeal (Dransfield v Information Commissioner & Devon County Council [2015] EWCA Civ 454) were referenced to interpret “vexatiousness”. It denotes requests with no reasonable foundation, serving no value to the requester or the public, and those motivated by intentions to cause disruption rather than seek information.

Section 58 FOIA

Emphasizing on full merits consideration per Section 58 FOIA and as seen in Information Commissioner v Malnick and ACOBA ([2018] UKUT 72 (AAC)), the First-tier Tribunal is obligated to review the case in detail, accounting for facts and law to discern if the public authority’s response aligns with the legal framework.

The Tribunal found no material evidence substantiating Mr. Kennaugh’s conspiracy suspicions. Furthermore, WYP’s justification for not recording the alleged crimes, requiring substantial personal details from the appellant, was deemed reasonable, rendering the request purposeless and vexatious.

Outcomes

The Tribunal dismissed Mr. Kennaugh’s appeal. It was determined that:

  1. Mr. Kennaugh did not provide substantial personal details required to record the alleged crimes, impeding the investigation.
  2. No crimes were recorded; hence, no reference numbers existed.
  3. There was no reasonable foundation nor public value in the request.
  4. The request was driven by an aim to investigate suspicion of wrongdoing by WYP, rather than a genuine pursuit of information, which is deemed vexatious.

Conclusion

The Tribunal’s decision in Keith Kennaugh v The Information Commissioner ([2024] UKFTT 128 (GRC)) serves as an exemplar of how FOIA requests can be deemed vexatious based on lack of a reasonable foundation, absence of public value, and when rooted in disruptive motives. It underscores the boundaries within which FOIA operates, reinforcing the need for requests to be grounded in substantive queries that warrant public authorities’ expenditure of resources to respond. The legal principles and the application of the test for vexatiousness were pivotal in reaching the decision to dismiss the appeal. This analysis offers legal professionals insight into potential FOIA request pitfalls, steering to form requests that are tenable and within the legal framework.

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