Whenever I do FOI training with journalists, there’s one question I can a) guarantee will be asked and b) have yet to find a full, understandable, answer for.
It’s this one:
“What does vexatious actually mean?”
It’s normally followed up by the question “Couldn’t they just call journalists vexatious?” To the second question, I normally say it would quite a brave authority which told a journalist inquiring for information that they were being vexatious, assuming, of course, that they cared about the fallout blocking access to information would bring.
But back to the first question. There’s the proper definition – as set out in FOI legislation – as to what vexatious means, but it’s not very clear.
So, while researching my blog post on the High Peak Council ‘gagging order’, I found this response from Rother Council to an FOI request. Admittedly, it was from 2008 and it doesn’t look as though the council still applies that test, but here’s their take on vexatious:
The Information Commissioner has advised that a request may be regarded as vexatious if it:
* clearly does not have any serious purpose or value;
* is designed to cause disruption or annoyance;
* has the effect of harassing the public authority; or
* can otherwise fairly be characterised as obsessive or manifestly
Unless we knew your real name and real address it would be more difficult for us to determine whether your request was vexatious or repeated. For instance, unless you are a professional journalist or researcher, your request would be less likely to have any serious purpose or value if you do not live in this District.
So you’re more likely to be vexatious if you don’t live in the area and aren’t a journalist or researcher? Interesting – and presumably bad news for any political party worker keen to make a bad news story against the Government stick.
Like I said, I’ve no idea if this still applies at Rother Council, but I thought it was worth sharing