Cooksey v ICO and Chief Officer of Greater Manchester Police (EA/20100113) is the Information Tribunal’s latest application of the ‘cost of compliance’ “exemption” at section 12 of FOIA.
The case concerned a request in six severable parts for information concerning documents from a murder investigation undertaken between1992 and 1995. The material from that investigation was stored in entirely disorganised boxes – a state of affairs which the Tribunal found “astonishing”. This disorganisation gave rise to the engagement of section 12. Notably, the Commissioner had examined a sample of the material and produced his own cost estimate which was lower than that advanced by the public authority. The Tribunal was satisfied that section 12 was engaged on the basis of the Commissioner’s estimate – but not that of the public authority.
The Appellant argued that the boxes should have been searched up to the costs limit, given that any information found in relation to her request, even if only partial, would be useful. The Tribunal rejected this approach to section 12: if the costs limit is engaged, the effect of section 12 is to disapply altogether the duty to comply with the information request.
The Tribunal also found that the margin of difference between the compliance estimate and the costs limit is a relevant consideration “in these circumstances”.
Interestingly, the Tribunal further noted that the boxes had been numbered after receipt of the request for information, for purposes of transportation. This, the Tribunal suggested, constituted a change in the way that information was organised which might allow for differently constituted information requests to be made, relying on the box numbers as a way of targeting those requests.