Tribunal Strikes Out Appeal in Rowland James Spencer v The Information Commissioner for Lack of Jurisdiction Under FOIA Statutory Procedure

Citation: [2023] UKFTT 1064 (GRC)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the matter of Rowland James Spencer v The Information Commissioner ([2023] UKFTT 01064 (GRC)), the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) has issued a decision that deliberates on the jurisdictional parameters within the context of information rights and the statutory appeal process under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). This article analyses the case law summary provided, elucidating the central legal principles applied by the Tribunal.

Key Facts

Rowland James Spencer (“the Appellant”) made a request for information from the Information Commissioner (“the ICO”) on 15 August 2023 under the FOIA. He received a partial response on 31 August 2023 and was subsequently informed of the procedures for internal review and, if still dissatisfied, the further steps to make a formal complaint to the ICO. The Appellant claims to have appealed the decision within half an hour, and following an internal review, the ICO maintained its position on 15 September 2023. Instead of lodging a complaint with the ICO as a statutory complaint handler under the FOIA, the Appellant directly appealed to the Tribunal on 30 September 2023.

The legal framework involved in this case pivots on several key provisions under the FOIA and the Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (General Regulatory Chamber) Rules 2009 (“2009 Rules”).

Section 50 of the FOIA allows a person dissatisfied with a public authority’s reply to a request for information to make a complaint to the Commissioner. Following a complaint, the Commissioner either informs the complainant that no decision has been made or issues a Decision Notice under section 50(3).

Section 57(1) of the FOIA dictates that either the complainant or the public authority may appeal to the Tribunal against a Decision Notice.

Rule 8(2) of the 2009 Rules empower the Tribunal to strike out proceedings if it lacks jurisdiction or elects not to transfer the case under rule 5(3)(k)(i).

The Tribunal must also consider the overriding objective outlined in rule 2 to ensure fairness and justice in handling cases.

Outcomes

The Tribunal concluded that since the Appellant did not lodge a formal complaint with the ICO after the internal review and consequently no Decision Notice was issued, he prematurely appealed to the Tribunal. This action is not compliant with the statutory requirements stipulated in section 57(1) of the FOIA.

Per Rule 8(2) of the 2009 Rules, the Tribunal must strike out proceedings if it does not have jurisdiction, which was the case here since the statutory steps of issuing a Decision Notice were bypassed. The Tribunal opted not to exercise its power under rule 5(3)(k)(i) to transfer the case, and considering the overriding objective, determined that the only recourse was to strike out the Appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Conclusion

The first-tier Tribunal’s decision in Rowland James Spencer v The Information Commissioner highlights the imperative of adhering to the FOIA statutory procedure for appeals, confirming the necessity of a Decision Notice before jurisdiction for an appeal to the Tribunal can be established. This emphasizes the procedural rigor established by the legislature to ensure a methodical complaint resolution process before escalating matters to judicial oversight. Legal professionals must counsel their clients on the importance of following prescribed statutory processes to ensure that their remedies are not forfeited through procedural missteps.

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