In March of last year, I blogged about a first-tier tribunal decision which looked at the question of whether a local authority was obliged under the EIR to allow an applicant to inspect property search information free of charge – see my post on the East Riding v IC case here (see also my post on the High Court judgment in Onesearch here). This is a question which has recently been revisited by the Upper Tribunal in Kirklees Council v IC & Pali Ltd. In Kirklees, a property search company (Pali) had written to Kirklees Council asking that it be allowed to inspect those property search records held by the council which would enable it (Pali) to answer particular questions contained in the relevant property search form issued by the Law Society (the CON29R form). Pali made clear in its request that it expected to be allowed to inspect the records free of charge in accordance with r. 8(2) EIR. The council refused the request and sought to charge Pali a fee for provision of the relevant information under the Local Authorities (Charges for Property Searches) Regulations 2008. The Commissioner concluded that the council ought to have permitted the applicant to inspect the records free of charge under the EIR. The council appealed against that decision. The case was referred directly to the Upper Tribunal.
The council’s principal argument on appeal was that Pali’s request was not a valid information request at all because, as the council put it, the request was a ‘purposive’ request rather than a ‘descriptive’ request – i.e. it was not a valid request because it was delineated by reference to a particular purpose, namely enabling Pali to answer the questions in the CON29R form, rather than one which sought simply to describe the particular information in question. The Upper Tribunal rejected this argument. It held that the terms ‘purposive’ and ‘descriptive’ requests were ‘unhelpful and misleading’ in this context and that, more generally, the distinction the council was seeking to draw would risk imposing technical hurdles on applicants which ‘could risk unduly narrowing access to environmental information’. The Tribunal also rejected a secondary case advanced by the council to the effect that r. 8 operated so as to enable it to charge for locating and retrieving relevant information prior to allowing inspection of that information. It held that r. 8(2) precluded an authority from charging for allowing applicants to inspect information in situ and that a charge was only permissible if copy documents were provided to the applicant or the information was accessed other than by means of in situ inspection. The decision should shortly be available on the Tribunal website.