UK Ruling Supports Choice Regarding Form of Disclosure

4 August 2014

A British Court of Appeal has ruled that a requester should be given a reply in a requested, useable Excel software and not in a pdf format, that can’t be manipulated.

The Buckinghamshire County Council had resisted giving information about the 11+ school entry “in Excel format” to requester Nick Innes. It provided 184 pages of data in PDF format instead.

Appeal court judge Lord Justice Underhill said in a July 31 ruling: “The result of course was that, although he had all the information for which he had asked, it could not be manipulated or processed in any of the ways permitted by the standard Excel software (e.g. generating graphs or tables or performing statistical analyses).”

The ruling gives further definition to Section 11 of the UK Freedom of Information Act which says applicants can express a preference for the “form” in which the data is delivered – paper or electronic – and that the authority receiving the request should “so far as reasonably practicable give effect to that preference.”

Seeking an expansive interpretation of the word “form,” Innes said his request did not place an unreasonable burden on the public authorities.

Underhill wrote: “I can see that it might possibly involve some extra or wasted work for the council, if it had already begun to prepare the information in one form, to have to put it into another; but that does not seem to me to be a basis on which the request could be refused.”

Lord Justice Longmore added:

To my mind the words of section 11(1) of the 2000 Act are not intended to give the person requesting information only a choice between being provided with the information in permanent form or being provided with the information in another (non-permanent) form.

That would be a restriction on the requester’s ability to say what was or was not acceptable which would be surprising to find a statute intended to open up channels of information in bureaucracies which had hitherto been closed.

See analysis of the case by the law firm Hill Dickenson.


The protection afforded to the public authority is that it is only required to give effect to that preference ‘so far as reasonably practicable’.



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