We expect our readers all know about the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) Information Rights case that Gavin Rattray
won hands down against “The Information Commissioner (First Respondent) and West Lancashire Borough Council (Second Respondent) before Judge Anthony Snelson, Mr Pieter De Waal, and Mr Andrew Whetnall”?
The unanimous decision of the Tribunal was that: (1) The appeal is allowed. (2) The First Respondent’s decision that the Second Respondent correctly applied the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, reg 12(4)(b) is set aside and the Tribunal substitutes its own decision that reg 12(4)(b) was not correctly applied and the Second Respondent was not entitled to rely on that provision as entitling it to refuse the Appellant’s request for information dated 27 October 2017.
There is no doubt that the concerns raised by Mr Rattray are serious. He describes without challenge (supported by photographic and other evidence) consequences of heavy rainfall which frequently include blockage of highways and rights of way by standing water and the overflow into roads and gardens of raw sewage.
Gavin Rattray was declared “vexatious or ‘manifestly unreasonable’” by WLBC, which was a bit rich from people who couldn’t manage flood risks locally. But the big surprise during the case was when WLBC invoked the West Lancashire Record in its case against Gavin Rattray. As the judgement noted
“The Council also places reliance on an anonymous social media post dated 4 October 2018 by the West Lancashire Record entitled, “If At First You Don’t Succeed, Become Vexatious”. It is evident that the piece was composed by someone with knowledge of the request of 27 October 2017 and the subsequent response of the Council and adjudication of the Commissioner. It is deeply critical of the Council’s perceived failure to deal with the flooding problems in Burscough and its response to the request. It ends by ironically congratulating “the complainant” for the successful outcome conveyed in the Commissioner’s subsidiary finding that the Council was in breach of the freedom of information legislation by failing to respond within the statutory 20 working days period, adding, “you’ve proved that those bureaucrats ARE accountable!” Despite its title, however, the post does not advocate the presentation of further requests for information, vexatious or otherwise. If anything, its general tenor is that no good would come of doing so”.
There is a lesson here. It doesn’t just relate to flooding. As the case decision notes “We are troubled by the logic of the Council’s case, which it does not shrink from expressing in plain language, that the door must now be closed on any further request for information related to flooding risk in and around Burscough. That logic runs counter to the entire spirit of the freedom of information legislation. It seeks to deprive Mr Rattray and, by extension, other concerned individuals who might be seen as associated with him, apparently forever, of an important constitutional right to seek information in order to hold a public body to account on a matter of obvious public significance”.
Isn’t the dreadful case of the Beacon Park Golf Course landfill for private £millions, unknown but massive, royalty gain for Serco Leisure Operating Ltd and Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd just as bad? As is stated by the Judge of this First-tier Tribunal “We reject the Council’s contention that Mr Rattray’s manner and tone in airing his concerns, through requests for information or otherwise, warrant the conclusion that the request under consideration is “manifestly unreasonable.” It is certainly true that he has complained vociferously that the Council has failed to live up to its responsibilities and has tried to minimise the problems to which he draws attention. He has also not hesitated to rehearse the history going back to 2012 and before but there is of itself nothing vexatious about that”.
This judicial decision can only encourage the plebs, the unwilling slaves to the decision makers, not to accept what is forced on us. How often have I, and Rosie Cooper acting for me, been told by WLBC that in the case of the WLBC owned Beacon Park Golf Course “information was provided directly to the Leisure Trust by (the corrupt) DCT and was not shared with the Council” and “In relation to the contract the Council was not part of the legal arrangements between DCT and Oaklands and does not have a copy of the contract”, the last occasion being 6th August 2020. It’s not that we deserve better than this, it is that WLBC should guarantee us there has been no corruption involved in the Beacon Park Golf Course landfill development.