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Freedom of information and ‘vexatious’ requests — The case of Scottish local government

Cherry, Morag and McMenemy, David (2013) Freedom of information and ‘vexatious’ requests — The case of Scottish local government. Government Information Quarterly, 30 (3). 257–266. ISSN 0740-624X

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Abstract

This paper investigates the cost and incidence of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests within local authorities in Scotland and in particular, the cost and incidence of requests which have been defined as ‘vexatious’ in order to investigate if the negative perceptions surrounding the cost and misuse of the legislation are justified. Additionally, the criteria and guidelines that local authorities are using to define ‘vexatious’ are also examined. The approach taken to the research in this study is a survey of the 32 local authorities in Scotland using freedom of information requests as the data collection method. The findings from the survey revealed that none of the local authorities were keeping records of costs relating to FOI requests. However, 80% were keeping records of numbers of requests. One third of authorities that kept records of ‘vexatious’ requests had experienced such a request. However, the actual number of ‘vexatious’ requests received were extremely low. The findings highlight the difficulties in recording cost data and the general lack of record keeping within organisations. The findings also indicate a very low incidence of ‘vexatious’ requests and suggest that the ‘vexatious’ definition may be applied inappropriately by public authorities.