'Vexatious and Unreasonable' Freedom of Information Requests

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 give members of the public the right to request information from public authorities. This legislation also allows public authorities to refuse to comply with such requests on grounds that they are vexatious or unreasonable.

Although the Information Commissioner’s Office has previously given some guidance as to the interpretation of the terms “vexatious” and “unreasonable” in this context, the legislation itself does not define either of these terms and there has been no previous binding authority. 

The joint appeals of Dransfield v Information Commissioner and Craven v Information Commissioner [2015] EWCA Civ 454 both involved a public authority’s refusal to provide information where it considered the requests to be vexatious and, in the case of one of the requests, manifestly unreasonable.

In dismissing the appeals, the Court of Appeal held that an objective test should be applied to determine vexatiousness and all of the relevant circumstances must be considered, including the motivation behind the request and the history between the requestor and the public authority. In the initial hearing, the tribunal was therefore correct in factoring in the requestor’s previous dealings with the authority in deciding whether the requests were vexatious.

The Court also held that there was no distinction between vexatious Freedom of Information requests and manifestly unreasonable Environmental Information requests.

Finally, the Court confirmed that the cost of compliance could be considered when deciding on the vexatiousness of a request, provided that this was balanced against the benefits of disclosure. 

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Beverley Flynn

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