The Tribunal’s recent decision in Crown Prosecution Service v IC EA/2009/0077 concerned a request for information about the CPS’ deliberations on s. 58 of the Children Act 2004, which restricted the availability of the “reasonable punishment” defence to what would otherwise be a criminal assault by an adult on a child. The importance of this decision lies not so much in the fate of the requested information (in short: some was exempt, some was to be disclosed), but in the Tribunal’s approach to late reliance on FOIA exemptions.

The CPS initially relied on s. 35(1)(a) (formulation and development of government policy). Then, in its appeal to the Tribunal, it invoked s. 35(1)(b) (ministerial communications) and s. 42 (legal professional privilege). Finally, the CPS raised s. 40 (2) (personal data) for the first time during the Tribunal proceedings. The Tribunal allowed late reliance on ss. 40(2) and 42, but not s. 35(1)(b).

In so doing, it applied the principles set out in the Tribunal’s decision in Home Office & Ministry of Justice v IC EA/2008/0062. The crux of that decision was that late reliance should only be allowed in “exceptional” circumstances. The Home Office approach was not disapproved in the appeal to the High Court from that Tribunal decision ([2009] EWHC 1611 (Admin)) – but nor was it formally approved. The CPS decision, which was complete with detailed reasoning in support of Home Office, seems to have resolved lingering questions about the Tribunal’s approach to late reliance.

The Tribunal in CPS also considered whether the IC is under a duty to consider exemptions that are not raised by the public authority. Here it followed the approach from Bowbrick v. Nottingham City Council EA/2005/0006: in “exceptional” cases, the IC is “entitled” to look for an appropriate exemption. This did not extend to s. 42 in Bowbrick, nor did it in CPS.