‘Victory’ for Welwyn Hatfield Times in Freedom of Information battle

WELWYN Hatfield Council was wrong to claim the law prevented it from supplying the WHT with details of meetings held behind closed doors, according to the Information Commissioner.

This newspaper reported the council after it refused to give basic information about why taxi drivers were being brought before councillors to have their licences reviewed, granted or refused.

The victory was a hollow one, though, as the council is STILL able to keep the information secret.

The WHT had never asked for personal information about the drivers, but simply WHY they had been put in front of the panel of five councillors.

The council’s Hackney Carriage officer is given powers to issue licences, so the mere fact individuals are being called in, we believe, is in the public interest.

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The council had refused to supply the information under section 44 of the Freedom of Information Act, as by doing so they would be breaching the Local Government Act.

The Information Commissioner originally agreed with the WHT this was not the case, and urged the council to release the information.

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Senior case officer Brian Payne told the WHT: “The way they have interpreted it is not right at all. It looks to me that they should be releasing the information.

“They made a mistake using section 44 and they’ve taken some time to agree to that.

“They are trying to use section 40 now, but it’s a bit late and this is a breach under the act.”

The council did go back to the IC asking for section 40 to be applied and was successful.

The final judgement read: “The Commissioner’s decision is the information is exempt under section 40(2) of the Act. He has looked carefully at the case and is satisfied that with knowledge of the contraventions or offences involved it would be a relatively simple matter to identify the individuals concerned.”

No penalty was imposed for breaching the act.

WHT editor Terry Mitchinson said our position remained as it was, adding: “We have never sought personal information about who the driver is and still believe it is in the public interest to know why drivers who have been allowed to ferry people around Welwyn Hatfield have been brought before councillors.”

To read the Information Commissioner’s decision in full click above right.

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