Monday, January 11, 2010

Absolutely wrong

The Gore District Council has blocked a former councillor from emailing requests for information to their offices, after classifying their requests as a "workplace hazard". They will still accept hardcopy requests, but not emails from this particular individual.

This is absolutely wrong. The Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 imposes a duty on local authorities to respond to such requests. It imposes no limits on how such requests can be made. While individual requests can be refused for being vexatious or trivial, this is something which must be judged individually for each request, and the Ombudsmen have been very clear that the section cannot be used because the organisation regards the requester as vexatious or frivolous (see Ombudsmen Quarterly Review, issue 1, p 3 [PDF]). While the requests may collectively be time-consuming, that is just something the GDC has to put up with - processing LGOIMA requests in a timely manner is part of core local government business. Requests involving substantial work can be charged for, of course (at the standard rate) - but if there are a large number of requests each of which would not individually incur a charge, that is again just something the council has to put up with. Answering these questions is their job, though clearly they seem to have forgotten that.

In addition, the fact that the block applies only to one individual and is aimed at discouraging requests suggests it is unreasonable and improperly discriminatory, and abuse of government power. This, of course, is exactly what the Ombudsmen's office was set up to prevent. And hopefully, the victim will be making a complaint to it soon.