Camden squatters case – back in the first-tier tribunal

Last year I blogged about a decision of the Upper Tribunal in the vacant properties case, Voyias v IC & Camden LBC, where the Upper Tribunal overturned the decision of the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) in favour of Mr Voyias and remitted the case to a differently constituted FTT (see my post here). The FTT’s decision on the remitted case has just been handed down – see the decision here. The issue which the FTT had to decide upon remission was whether was whether the Camden LBC (the Council) had correctly concluded that it was entitled to refuse to disclose to Mr Voyias information identifying vacant properties in its area on the ground that the requested information was exempt from disclosure under s. 31(1)((a) FOIA (the prevention and detection of crime exemption). The particular issues the FTT had to decide were: (a) whether the requested information engaged the exemption provided for under s. 31(1)(a) and (b) whether the public interest balance weighed in favour of the exemption being maintained. In a decision which was very robustly in favour of the Council, the FTT held that the requested information had been lawfully withheld. This decision is in stark contrast with the decision reached by the original FTT which upheld Mr Voyias’ appeal in respect of the Council’s refusal.

In deciding that the requested information was lawfully withheld, the FTT was plainly mindful of the guidance given by the Upper Tribunal that, when determining whether the public interest balance weighed in favour of maintaining the s. 31(1)(a) exemption, regard should be had, not merely to the direct adverse consequences of the disclosure but also to any indirect consequences which arose as ‘realistic possibilities’. Ultimately, the FTT concluded that ‘the small weight that the public interest in disclosure bears does not come close to equalling the public interest in preventing the categories of crime we have identified in this decision’ (§55). Thus, a very strong decision in favour of the Council. No doubt the former Housing Minister, Grant Schapps MP, who scathingly described the original FTT decision as a ‘squatters’ charter’, will be substantially relieved by the new decision.

11KBW’s Ben Hooper was for the Council and Chris Knight was for the Commissioner.

Anya Proops