Apologies it has taken such a long time to provide an update to this case, but progress has been very slow.
On 9th June 2016 we sent a Freedom of Information request to the Leeds-based The Gorse Academies Trust, which sought information about legal action and expenses incurred by the Trust in the recent pursuit of its Facebook critics. You can read more of the back story in our earlier article.
The Trust is not entitled to know the reasons behind our request for information, but we volunteer the fact that we are seeking to establish the merits and expense of its legal action. It would appear to us that the merits are questionable and the expense considerable, which might explain why the Trust appears so reluctant to provide us with the information requested.
You might remember that The Gorse Academies Trust initially ignored our request for information for almost two months. Having been stonewalled by the Trust, we made a complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).
The ICO duly wrote to the Trust, which no doubt spurred it into providing its eventual response on 21st September 2016. That response, from a lawyer acting on behalf of the Trust, indicated that it was withholding the requested information on the basis that it was legally professionally privileged. We disagree with that assertion, so have asked the ICO to determine if the Trust has made the correct refusal decision.
For the past few months the ICO has been trying to obtain the withheld information to determine if it is actually exempt from disclosure. During its enquiries the ICO asked the Trust to provide the withheld information on three separate occasions, but each time it failed to do so.
Eventually, after weeks of toing and froing, the ICO took the unusual decision of issuing an Information Notice against the Trust. The notice, issued under section 51 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, ordered the Trust to provide the ICO with the withheld information within 30 days.
Information Notices are exceptionally rare. Every year the ICO receives around 5,000 complaints about the handling of Freedom of Information requests, but it only issues around 20 Information Notices to those public authorities that need a bit of persuasion to cooperate with its enquiries.
We are somewhat relieved to say that the Trust has complied with the notice and the ICO is currently scrutinising the withheld information. We hope to have a decision within the next few weeks.
We are happy to publish a copy of the Information Notice here, so that readers can gauge for themselves the level of cooperation The Gorse Academies Trust has afforded the ICO.
Stay tuned for updates.