Tribunal Limits Scope of Jurisdiction in FOIA Appeal, Rejects Allegations of Conspiracy and Human Rights Violations

Citation: [2023] UKFTT 951 (GRC)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the matter of Sajad Hussain v The Information Commissioner, the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) on Information Rights heard an appeal by Sajad Hussain against a decision by the Information Commissioner concerning a request for information submitted to the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council. The appellant raised allegations of conspiracy and the violation of human rights, specifically Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This case sheds light on the Tribunal’s jurisdiction under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and the role of human rights in the context of information requests.

Key Facts

Mr. Sajad Hussain requested information from the Bradford Council regarding fraud in direct care payments. After a series of communications, Bradford Council provided responses, which led to Mr. Hussain lodging a complaint with the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner determined that the Council did not hold the information sought by Mr. Hussain regarding non-spent fraud money. Mr. Hussain appealed the decision, alleging a conspiracy between the Information Commissioner and Bradford Council and invoking human rights under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The legal principles in play concern the jurisdiction and powers of the First-tier Tribunal under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, as well as the application of human rights law in the context of FOIA requests.

The Tribunal’s jurisdiction is enshrined in s58 of FOIA, which prescribes the conditions under which an appeal may be allowed or dismissed. The appellant premised his appeal on allegations of conspiracy and human rights violations; however, these grounds were outside the Tribunal’s jurisdiction under FOIA.

Furthermore, the Tribunal invoked Rule 8(2) and Rule 8(3) of the Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (General Regulatory Chamber) Rules 2009. These rules empower the Tribunal to strike out proceedings that fall outside its jurisdiction or have no reasonable prospect of success.

The application of Article 10 was considered in light of the decision in Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v. Hungary [2016] ECHR 975. Nevertheless, the Tribunal referenced Moss v Information Commissioner and the Cabinet Office [2020] UKUT 242 AAC to emphasize that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights does not ordinarily expand the scope of considerations under FOIA.

Outcomes

TRIBUNAL JUDGE ALEKSANDER struck out Mr. Hussain’s appeal on two grounds:

  1. Lack of Jurisdiction: The appeal was outside of the Tribunal’s jurisdiction under s58 FOIA, as it cannot address allegations of conspiracy or oversee compliance with human rights in the context of FOIA unless it pertains to whether a notice is in accordance with the law or discretion exercised by the Information Commissioner.

  2. No Reasonable Prospect of Success: The Tribunal held that even if it misunderstood its jurisdiction, the appellant failed to provide specific details and evidence to support his allegations of conspiracy. Thus, the appeal would have been struck out under Rule 8(3) for not having a reasonable prospect of success.

Additionally, the Tribunal suggested that if the appellant has evidence of a Fraud Act 2006 contravention, this should be reported to the police, rather than addressed in a FOIA appeal.

Conclusion

The case of Sajad Hussain v The Information Commissioner establishes clear legal precedent concerning the scope of the Tribunal’s jurisdiction in FOIA appeals. Allegations that extend beyond the boundaries set by FOIA, such as conspiracy accusations and broad human rights contentions, are not factors the Tribunal can consider. This decision underscores the importance of grounding FOIA appeals in considerations directly related to the legality of notices or the exercise of discretion by the Information Commissioner. This case also reiterates the principle that Article 10 rights, as important as they are, do not provide a basis for expanding the Tribunal’s jurisdiction under FOIA.

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