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Code of Practice for the Management of Records Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

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Introduction

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 ("The Act") imposes certain obligations on public authorities, which for these purposes includes the College. It provides the public with wide rights of access to the College's records and also requires the College to implement and maintain a comprehensive Records Management system.

The College's Policy on Freedom of Information is that it will comply fully with the Act and will place in the public domain as much information about its activities as is practicable and, subject to the exemptions permitted under the Act, will make all other information available on request. In particular, the College will conform with the Lord Chancellor's Code of Practice on the Management of Records produced by the Department of Constitutional Affairs. (1)

This Code of Practice provides guidance on the implementation of the records management aspects of the College's Freedom of Information Policy (2). There is a parallel Code of Practice, (3) which provides guidance on the handling of requests for information submitted under the Act. This Code of Practice covers all types of record held by the College.

Definitions

"Records" means papers, maps, photographs, sound or video recordings, machine-readable records and electronic records or other documentary material, regardless of physical form, created or received by the College, its staff and students in the normal course of College business. Such documents constitute (with a few exceptions such as those that are the subject of a separate agreement concerning the assignment of intellectual property rights between the College and an individual) College Records and remain its property.

"Records Management" means activities involved in the management of information throughout its life cycle.

"Records Life Cycle" means the life span of a record from creation to destruction, including information acquisition, creation, retention, storage, retrieval, communication, utilisation and eventual destruction.

"Machine-Readable Records". Means electronic records, including e-mails. They meet the legal, operational and archival requirements of the College, support accountability, and are subject to the same legislation as paper records. Electronic records should be able to function as evidence of business activities and processes, with the same degree of confidence as paper records. They should be accessible and provide appropriate access within and between business processes, and prevent unauthorised access. From the point at which an electronic document is filed as a record, it becomes part of the College's Corporate Records.

Importance of good records management

While it is essential that Imperial complies with the Act in implementing a College Records Management system, good record keeping practice is important in its own right. It helps to ensure that the administration of the College is efficient and effective because:

a. It ensures that information can be found and that the process of doing so is quick and simple, which in turn, saves staff time and hence staff costs.

b. It ensures that the College's operations are transparent and facilitates the auditing of the College's affairs.

c. It protects the College's legal position by ensuring that important documents are retained and are easily accessible.

d. By ensuring that records are not duplicated and are not held for longer than necessary, it reduces the requirement for storage space and equipment, thereby providing additional space for other use.

e. By demonstrating that the College is administratively efficient it enhances the College's reputation.

Records management organisation

The organisation of the College's Records Management System is shown in the diagram attached at Annex A below. It is administered by the Corporate Records Unit, which forms part of the Central Secretariat and is headed by the Corporate Records Manager & College Archivist. The Corporate Records Unit works closely with individual faculties, departments, divisions and centres across the College to assist them in implementing this Code of Practice.

Responsibilities

College Secretary

The College Secretary is responsible for the overall management of the system and its associated procedures.

Corporate Records Unit

The Corporate Records Unit is responsible for:

a. Managing the College's centrally held corporate records and archives.

b. Maintaining the College's central records management database.

c. Keeping the College's records management policies and procedures under review and ensuring that these comply with good practice in HE and other sectors.

d. Advising the College Secretary on changes to the College's records management policies and procedures.

e. Setting consistent standards for records management practices across the College.

f. Providing assistance, advice and training to staff about efficient record-keeping practices.

g. Rationalising and controlling central space for the management of the College corporate records and advising on the enhancement of record keeping conditions in offices and storage areas.

h. Assisting the Central Secretariat in responding to requests for information.

Faculties, Departments, Divisions and Centres

Faculties, departments, divisions and centres are responsible for:

a. Ensuring that they comply with these procedures and that local arrangements are in place to this end.

b. Appointing Faculty/ Departmental/ Divisional Records Managers.

c. Providing appropriate space for the storage of departmental records.

Faculty, Departmental and Divisional Records Managers

Faculty/ Departmental/ Divisional Records Managers are responsible for:

a. Ensuring that these procedures are implemented across the Faculty/ Department/ Division and that they operate efficiently and effectively.

b. Ensuring that these procedures are applied not only to paper records but also all other forms of record.

c. Using the College records management databases to list and track departmental records.

d. Ensuring that departmentally held records are disposed of in accordance with the retention schedules set out in Annex B below at the bottom of this Code of Practice.

e. Liaising with the Corporate Records Unit.

f. Informing the Corporate Records Unit of staff changes within the Department to ensure that the records management databases are kept up-to-date.

Individual Members of Staff

Individual members of staff are responsible for:

a. Ensuring that they are aware of their own responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Policy and its associated Codes of Practice.

b. Keeping their work records, including those held electronically, in good order and accessible.

c. Using the College records management database to list and track their work records.

d. Filing and weeding records on a regular basis.

e. Disposing of records in accordance with the retention schedules set out in Annex B of this Code of Practice.

f. Liaising with the Departmental/ Divisional Records Manager as required.

Records management system

The College's records management system has two main elements - the recording and storage of records. Taken together these cover the listing, accessibility and final disposition of all College records.

Records Management Databases

a. The College has a central Records Management Database (ReMAS), which is managed by the Corporate Records Unit. Each user has a copy of their part of the database on their own PC and is responsible for keeping their entries up-to-date.

b. The College also has a related database, the Online Heritage Resource Manager (OHRM), for managing access to information contained in the College's Publication Scheme. .

c. Both databases are essential aids for recording, accessing and retrieving College records.

Records Storage

There are three stages in the storage requirements of a record. These are:

a. Immediate. Records that have recently been created, or are in current use, will normally be stored as close to the user as possible. In most cases these records will be stored in the user's own office. When no longer required for immediate use some records may be destroyed, while others will be moved into short-term storage.

b. Short-term. When a record is no longer required for immediate use, it will normally be stored where it can be retrieved within 24 hours. It is the responsibility of Faculties, Departments and Divisions to identify suitable space for short-term storage of Departmental records. The Corporate Records Unit can provide advice on appropriate conditions for short-term storage . The College has limited short-term storage facilities at its South Kensington Campus, which are administered by the Corporate Records Unit.

c. Long Term. Most records that are no longer required for immediate or short-term use should be destroyed in accordance with the Retention Schedule set out in Annex B of this Code of Practice. Records that the College is required to keep for longer periods, and in some cases in perpetuity, will either be moved to long-term storage or archived. The College has limited long-term storage facilities at its Wye Campus, which are administered by the Corporate Records Unit.

Record management procedures

Records Creation

All new records should be entered onto the ReMAS database by the member of staff responsible for creating the record. This is essential if the College's business is to be properly recorded.

Records Organisation

Records must be organised consistently and comprehensively to ensure that they are accessible. It is essential that the filing systems used by a Faculty, Department or Division achieve this.

Records Maintenance

a. Records must be kept up-to-date and maintained in good condition to ensure that they remain usable and do not deteriorate.

b. Duplicate records and multiple versions of the same record should be kept to a minimum. In principle, there is only a requirement for a single, master copy of each record to be held by its creator.

c. Confidential records must be kept securely. Hard copy records should be stored in locked cabinets or rooms. Confidential and/ or contentious electronic records should be password-protected on a hard disk or secure shared drive and/ or copied onto CDs or DVDs, which should be then be stored in locked cabinets or rooms.

Records Use

a. Care must be exercised in the handling of all records and they should be returned to designated storage promptly after use.

b. Where a record is loaned to another person, Department or external organisation, this should be recorded on the ReMAS database so that the whereabouts of the record can be tracked.

c. Confidential records must be kept secure and should be seen only by those persons authorised to do so.

Records Retention and Disposal

a. Records should not be retained any longer than is necessary for the efficient operation of the College.

b. Records that are of sufficient and continuing administrative and/ or historical value to College will become the responsibility of the Corporate Records Unit.

c. Records that have outlived their administrative usefulness should be destroyed systematically in accordance with the retention schedules set out in this Code of Practice.

d. Under the Act it is now a criminal offence to destroy or dispose of records once the College has received a formal request to access the information contained in those records.

e. The detailed Records Retention Schedule is attached at Annex B below.

Review of the Code of Practice

The Code of Practice and Procedures will be reviewed each January, by the Operations Committee, as part of its review of the main Policy. The review will also take account of best practice in records management and, where appropriate, recommendations for amendments to this Code of Practice will be considered.

Annex B

See information about the Retention Schedule, as maintained by the College Archivices and Corporate Records Unit.

References and Footnotes

1 - The Lord Chancellor's Code of Practice on the Management of Records 

2 - The College's Policy on Freedom of Information

3 - The College's Code of Practice for Responding to Requests for Information can be found below.

Code of Practice on Requests for Information

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Definitions

Throughout this code the following terms are used:

a. “The Act” means the Freedom of Information Act 2000
b. “Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC)” refers to the regulatory body for the Act
c. “Data Protection” means the Data Protection Act 1998 (as amended), relating to the processing of personal data.
d. “Formal Request” means a written request for information under the provisions of the Act.

Introduction

This Code of Practice provides guidance on the handling of requests for information submitted under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the Act’). It supplements the College’s Freedom of Information Policy ( ) and a parallel Code of Practice ( ), which provides guidance on the implementation of records management in the College.

The Act requires that institutions implement and maintain an effective system for responding to requests for information. The College’s Policy on Freedom of Information is that it will comply fully with the Act and it will place in the public domain as much information about its activities as is practicable, and subject to the exemptions permitted under the Act will make all other information available on request. In particular, it will conform with the Lord Chancellor’s Code of Practice on the Discharge of Public Authorities’ Functions. ( )

That Code of Practice requires the College to:

a. Provide advice and assistance to persons making requests for information.

b. Deal with all requests within 20 working days of receipt of request, charge any fees in accordance with the Lord Chancellor’s Fee Regulations and justify any refusal of a request.

c. Assist a person making a request, when the information they are seeking is held by another public authority.

d. Consult with third parties before releasing any data that may affect them

e. Also consult with third parties where it might enable the College in determining if and how the information should be released.

f. Have a complaints procedure to deal with any complaints made about its Publication Scheme, or the handling or result of an individual application.

The College has a publication scheme which details the classes of information that it has chosen to make publicly available, together with details of how the information can be obtained and any associated cost.

The College regularly receives requests for information as part of the normal course of business. Members of staff will be expected to continue dealing with these requests as normal.

This Code of Practice relates solely to requests for information where a member of College is unable or unwilling to respond to the request or the request is explicitly made under the Act and the information requested is not covered in the College’s Publication Scheme. All requests of this nature must be passed to the Central Secretariat as a matter of urgency. The Central Secretariat will then consider the request and work with the appropriate departments or divisions to locate the information. The Central Secretariat will also consider any exemptions that might apply to releasing the information and determine any associated fees.

Data protection

The provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 always take precedence over those of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Personal information must always be obtained, processed, stored and disclosed in accordance with the Data Protection Act, even where a request for information has been made under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Organisation

The Central Secretariat is responsible for dealing with requests for information made under the Freedom of Information Act. The system for handling such requests is administered by the College Corporate Records Unit, which forms part of the Central Secretariat and is headed by the Corporate Records Manager and College Archivist. The Corporate Records Unit liaises with individual departments and centres to obtain the information where it is held locally. An organisation diagram can be found at Annex A.

Responsibilities

College Secretary

The College Secretary is responsible for the overall management of the system and procedures.

Central Secretariat

The Central Secretariat is responsible for:

a. Working with departments and divisions to ensure they are aware of their responsibilities under the Act.

b. Ensuring all requests under the Act are handled in accordance with the College’s Freedom of Information Policy and Codes of Practice.

c. Assisting and advising individuals and organisations making requests under the Act.

d. Ensuring that, in considering requests for information and accepting or refusing them, the public interest is properly assessed and exemptions are properly applied.

e. Ensuring information is released within the timescales specified within this Code of Practice (see Para. 22)

f. Maintaining the Publication Scheme.

g. Keeping the College’s Freedom of Information Policy and Codes of Practice under review.

Corporate Records Unit

Within the Central Secretariat the Corporate Records Unit is responsible for:

a. Retrieval of information in long-term storage.

b. Liaising with Departments/Divisions to retrieve information held by them locally.

c. Maintaining the Freedom of Information databases.

Faculties and Departments/ Divisions

Faculties and Departments/ Divisions are responsible for:

a. Ensuring that they comply with these procedures and that local arrangements are in place to this end.

b. Appointing Departmental/ Divisional Records Managers.

Departmental/Divisional Records Managers

Departmental/ Divisional Records Managers are responsible for:

a. Ensuring that all requests for information are passed on promptly to the Central Secretariat and systems are in place for checking and, if necessary, redirecting the post and electronic mail of staff absent from College.

b. Assisting the Corporate Records Unit in locating and retrieving information.

c. Assisting the Central Secretariat in drafting the College’s response to a request and preparing the information in a suitable form, electronic or physical, for disclosure to the applicant.

d. Informing the Central Secretariat of changes to any information covered by the Publication Scheme, including changes to URL addresses.

Members of the College

Individual Members of the College are responsible for:

a. Knowing their responsibilities under the Act

b. Ensuring that, when they are absent from College for any reason, arrangements are in place for their post and electronic mail to be checked or redirected to someone who can deal with it promptly.

c. Responding to requests for information and, if they are unwilling or unable to do so, referring the request to the Departmental or Divisional Records Manager.

d. Seeking advice when they are uncertain on how to respond to a request.

Procedure for responding to requests for information under the act

General

All formal requests for information under the Act must be directed to the Central Secretariat in the first instan ce. The Secretariat will then determine how each request is to be handled. As with curren t procedures for managing subject access requests under the Data Protection Act 1998, this will usually involve Departments and Divisions assisting in retrieving informat ion and supplying it to the Central Secretariat. The Central Secretariat will then make the College’s formal response to such requests. A flowchart, outlining the process for dealing with requests, is in shown in Annex B below.

Initial Request - Assisting the Applicant

a. There is an obligation on the College to provide advice and assistance to those making requests under the Act. The duty on the College is to provide advice and assistance "so far as it would be reasonable to expect [it] to do so".
b. Not all potential applicants will be aware of the Act, or Regulations made under it. Members of College receiving requests must draw these to the attention of potential applicants who appear to be unaware of them.
c. A request for information under the Act must be made in writing (which can include e-mail). Where a person is unable to submit a written request, the member of staff must assist the applicant and should refer them to Central Secretariat.
d. Further details on assisting applicants and dealing with requests can be found in Annex B below.

Action by Central Secretariat

a. The Central Secretariat staff are responsible for assisting applicants requesting information under the Act and ensuring the requests are processed both in accordance with the Act and the College’s Policy and Codes of Practice. Further details can be found in Annex B below.

b. Procedure for Identifying Where Information is Held

(1) Documents stored electronically will be accessed via the Freedom of Information databases. These will provide a searchable interface both for people seeking information and the College Corporate Records Unit who will manage the accessibility of the documents that the College makes publicly available.

(2) The Corporate Records Unit will then be responsible for retrieving the information.

c. When the College Does Not hold the Information. There may be circumstances in which the College does not hold some or all of the information requested by the applicant. In addition to providing the information which the College does hold as part of the request it must:

(1) Where it believes another Public Authority holds some or all of the information, redirect the applicant to enable him or her to pursue his or her request.
(2) Where it does not know who owns some or all of the information, provide what advice and assistance it can to the applicant to enable him or her to pursue his or her request.

Action by the Corporate Records Unit

The Corporate Records Unit will:

a. Use the Freedom of Information databases and/or work with the relevant Department or Division to locate and retrieve the information requested.

b. Retrieve any information located in long-term storage.

Action by Departments/ Divisions

The Department or Division will:

a. Assist the Corporate Records Unit to locate and retrieve the information requested.

b. Advise the Central Secretariat if they believe there are any reasons why the information should be withheld.

Response by Central Secretariat

The Central Secretariat will respond to all requests and release information having first:

a. Ensured that information released complies with the Data Protection Act 1998.

b. Considered whether the information requested or any part thereof is subject to an exemption under the Act.

c. Consulted with third parties, where appropriate. Further details can be found in Annex C below.

d. Where appropriate informed the Press Office of any information that is being released.

Timescale for Responding to Requests

a. The Act requires that replies to requests for information be made within 20 working days. Those dealing with requests must do so promptly and not delay responding until the end of the 20 working day period if the information can reasonably be provided earlier.

b. Central Secretariat aims to make all decisions within 20 working days, including those where it needs to consider where the public interest lies in respect of an application for exempt information.

c. In those instances when it is not possible for the Central Secretariat to deal with an application within 20 working days they must:

(1) Give an estimate of the date by which they expect to reach such a decision.

(2) Ensure that their estimates are realistic and reasonable in the circumstances of the particular case, taking account, for example, of the need to consult third parties where this is necessary

(3) Comply with their estimates unless there are good reasons not to do so. If they exceed their estimate, they should apologise to the applicant and explain the reason(s) for the delay. If they find, while considering the public interest, that the estimate given is proving unrealistic, they must keep the applicant informed. They must keep a record of instances where estimates are exceeded, and where this happens more than occasionally, take steps to identify the problem and rectify it.

Fee Charging

The College has discretion to charge applicants a fee in accordance with the Fees Regulations in respect of requests made under the general right of access. Further details can be found in Annex D below.

Notification of Complaints Procedure

When communicating any decision made in relation to a request under the Act's general right of access, the College is obliged to notify the applicant of their rights of complaint. Central Secretariat must provide details of the complaints procedure, including how to make a complaint, and must inform the applicant of his or her right to complain to the Information Commissioner if he or she is still dissatisfied following the College’s review.

Refusal of Request

Where the College relies on an exemption to refuse a request for information Central Secretariat must inform the applicant which exemption has been claimed, and, if it would otherwise not be apparent, why that exemption applies. It must not merely paraphrase the wording of the exemption. (unless the statement would involve the disclosure of information which would itself be exempt information). The Act also requires the College, when withholding information (other than under an "absolute" exemption), to state the reasons for claiming that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Members of staff must specify the public interest factors (for and against disclosure) they have taken into account before reaching the decision. Further details on the exemptions that may be claimed under the Act are available in Annex E below.

Contracts and 3rd Party Confidence

The College should only accept information from third parties in confidence if it is necessary to obtain that information in connection with the exercise of any of its functions and it would not otherwise be provided. In addition, the College should not agree to hold information received from third parties "in confidence" which is not confidential in nature. Again, acceptance of any confidentiality provisions must be for good reasons, capable of being justified to the Commissioner. Further details are given in Annex E below.

Handling Requests for Information which Appear to be Part of an Organised Campaign

The College is not required to comply with a number of related requests where the cumulative cost of complying with the requests would exceed the "appropriate limit" (i.e. cost threshold) prescribed in the Lord Chancellor’s Fees Regulations. In such cases members of staff must consider whether the information could be disclosed in another, more cost-effective, manner. For example, publication on the College’s website, and a brief notification of the website reference to each applicant, might bring the cost within the appropriate limit.

Complaints procedure

The complaints procedure may be used by any person who considers that the College is not complying with its Publication Scheme, or who wishes to complain about the handling or outcome of their request. Further details are in Annex F below.

Review of the Code of Practice

For monitoring purposes the Central Secretariat will keep a record of all applications. This will include applications where all or part of the requested information is withheld. In addition to a record of the numbers of applications involved where information is withheld, senior managers in the College need information on each case to determine whether cases are being properly considered, and whether the reasons for refusals are sound. Central Secretariat will also keep a record of all complaints and of their outcome.

The Code of Practice and Procedures will be reviewed each January, by theManagement Board , as part of the review of the main Policy. The review will also monitor appropriate statistics, complaints and be responsible for reviewing, and, if necessary, amending, procedures for dealing with requests for information where such action is indicated by more than occasional reversals of initial decisions.

The Central Secretariat will consider whether the Publication Scheme can be updated to include any material that is the subject of repeat requests.

College contacts

Any enquiries about this Code of Practice or for more details on the College’s Freedom of Information Policy and Model Publication Scheme should be directed to:

Freedom of Information Officer
Imperial College London
Exhibition Road
London
SW7 2AZ

Tel: 020 7594 9903 Fax: 020 7594 8802
E-mail: Freedom of Information office

33. Complaints in relation to the Publication Scheme or the handling of a request for information should be directed to:

The College Secretary
Imperial College London
Exhibition Road
London
SW7 2AZ

Tel: 020 7594 7272
Fax: 020 7594 8802
E-mail: The College secretary

34. Any complainant who is dissatisfied with the way in which the College Secretary has handled their complaint may have recourse to the official regulator for the Freedom of Information Act who is:

The Information Commissioner
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF

The Information Commissioner's website

Annex B - Assisting Applicants and Dealing with Requests

When a person is unable to submit a written request, Central Secretariat will provide further assistance. Depending on the circumstances, appropriate assistance might include:

a. Advising the applicant who else might be able to assist them, for example Citizen's Advice Bureau;
b. In exceptional circumstances, offering to take a note of the application over the phone and then sending the note to the applicant for confirmation.

Where the request is vague or ambiguous the College is obliged, as far as practicable, to assist the applicant in clarifying the request. The purpose of this is to clarify the nature of the information sought, not to determine the aims or motivation of the applicant. This may include providing:

a. An outline of the different kinds of information which might meet the terms of the request;
b. A general response to the request setting out options for further information which could be provided on request;
c. Access to detailed catalogues and indexes, where available, to help the applicant ascertain the nature and extent of the information held by the authority;

If, following the provision of such assistance, the applicant is still unable to describe the information requested in a way that would enable the College to identify and locate it; the College is not expected to seek further clarification. It is, however, required to disclose any information that has been successfully identified and explain to the applicant why it cannot take the request any further. It must also provide the applicant with details of the College's Complaints Procedure.

Where the applicant is not prepared to pay the appropriate fee, the College should nevertheless consider whether there is any information that may be of interest to the applicant that is available free of charge.

Where the College is not obliged to supply the information requested because the cost of doing so would exceed the "appropriate limit" (i.e. cost threshold), and where the College is not prepared to meet the additional costs itself, it should nevertheless provide an indication of what information could be provided within the cost ceiling.

The College is not expected to provide assistance to applicants whose requests are deemed vexatious within the meaning of the Act.

Annex C - Consultation With Third Parties

In some cases the disclosure of information pursuant to a request may affect the legal rights of a third party, for example where information is subject to the common law duty of confidence or where it constitutes "personal data" within the meaning of the Data Protection Act 1998 ("the DPA"). Members of staff must always remember that, unless an exemption provided for in either the DPA or the Freedom of Information Act applies in relation to any particular information, it will be obliged to disclose that information in response to a request.

In some cases, a disclosure of information cannot be made without the consent of a third party (for example, where information has been obtained from a third party and in the circumstances the disclosure of the information without their consent would constitute an actionable breach of confidence such that the exemption at Section 41 of the Act would apply). In such instances, members of staff must consult that third party with a view to seeking their consent to the disclosure unless such a consultation is not practicable (for example because the third party cannot be located or because the costs of consulting them would be disproportionate).

Where information constitutes "personal data" within the meaning of the DPA, staff must have regard to Section 40 of the Act which makes detailed provision for cases in which a request relates to such information and the interplay between the Act and the DPA in such cases.

Where the interests of the third party which may be affected by a disclosure do not give rise to legal rights, consultation may still be appropriate.

Consultation should take place where:

a. The views of the third party may assist the College to determine whether an exemption under the Act applies to the information requested; or
b. The views of the third party may assist the College to determine where the public interest lies under Section 2 of the Act.

Members of staff may consider that consultation is not appropriate where the cost of consulting with third parties would be disproportionate. In such cases, staff must consider what is the most reasonable course of action for them to take in light of the requirements of the Act and the individual circumstances of the request.

Consultation will be unnecessary where:

a. The College does not intend to disclose the information relying on some other legitimate ground under the terms of the Act;
b. The views of the third party can have no effect on the decision of the authority, for example, where there is other legislation preventing or requiring the disclosure of this information;
c. No exemption applies and so, under the Act's provisions, the information must be provided.

Where the interests of a number of third parties may be affected by a disclosure and those parties have a representative organisation which can express views on behalf of those parties, the College may, if it considers consultation appropriate, consider that it would be sufficient to consult that representative organisation. If there is no representative organisation, the College may consider that it would be sufficient to consult a representative sample of the third parties in question.

The fact that the third party has not responded to consultation does not relieve the College of its duty to disclose information under the Act, or its duty to reply within the time specified in the Act.

In all cases, it is for the College, not the third party (or representative of the third party) to determine whether or not information should be disclosed under the Act. A refusal to consent to disclosure by a third party does not, in itself, mean information should be withheld.

It is likely that many requests of this type will invo lve consultation with the NHS Trusts that the College has relationships with. In these cases the College may wish to ensure that a co-ordinated response is adopted to ensure that any exem ptions are properly assessed.

Annex D - Fee Regulations

In dealing with any request for information under the Act the College is able to charge fees in accordance with the Freedom of Information Fee Regulations.

The costs to be taken into account by the College when determining any fee to be charged are:

(a) The prescribed costs, meaning any costs reasonably incurred by the College in determining whether it holds information of the description specified in the request, in locating and retrieving any such information and in giving effect to any preference expressed by the applicant as to the means of communication of such information, including the cost of associated staff time, but does not include the cost of staff time incurred in determining whether the College is obliged to comply with the request for information; and

(b) The disbursements meaning any costs directly and reasonably incurred by the College in informing the applicant whether it holds information of the description specified in the request and in communicating any such information to him;

that would be incurred by the College in complying with the request for information to which the fee relates.

Appropriate limit

The College does not have to comply with a request for information if it estimates that the cost of complying with the request would exceed the appropriate limit, £450.

Maximum fee

The fee that may be charged by the College shall not exceed the sum of:

(a) 10% of the prescribed costs; and
(b) the disbursements;

Where the cost of complying with a request exceeds the maximum fee then the College may still decide to comply with the request. In this case the fee that may be charged by the College shall not exceed the sum of:

(a) 10% of the prescribed costs, for the first £450 of such costs; and
(b) the prescribed costs, for such costs over £450; and
(c) the disbursements;

Aggregation of costs

Where two or more requests for information are made to the College and:

(a) the two or more requests relate, to any extent, to the same or similar information, and ;

(b) those requests are received by the College within any period of sixty consecutive working days then the estimated cost of complying with the request is to be taken to be the estimated total cost of complying with all of them.

then the estimated cost of complying with any of the requests is to be taken to be the estimated total cost of complying with all of them.

Annex E - Refusal of Request

Some of the information held by the College may be regarded as exempt information i.e. it will not have to be provided in response to an individual request. There are 23 such exemptions and they relate to information held for a variety of functions. These include national security, law enforcement, commercial interests, and personal data. The Central Secretariat will be responsible for deciding if an exemption is applicable.

Before relying on an exemption, the Central Secretariat will usually be obliged to consider two further points. First, some of the exemptions can only be claimed if the release of the information would prejudice the purpose to which the exemption relates. Thus information held in connection with law enforcement can only be withheld if its release would, for example, prejudice the prevention or the detection of a crime. Secondly, some of the exemptions also require the Central Secretariat to apply the "public interest" test before making a final decision as to whether or not to release the information. The public interest test requires the College to consider whether the public interest in withholding the exempt information outweighs the public interest in releasing it.

Most of the exemptions will require the Central Secretariat to consider both the test of prejudice and the public interest test. However care must be taken to determine if a specific exemption can be relied upon. It should be noted that only the information to which an exemption applies would be withheld. Thus, if a particular document had been requested which contained some exempt information, only those specific items of exempt information could be withheld. The rest of the document would still have to be released.

CONTRACTS

When entering into contracts the College should refuse to include contractual terms which purport to restrict the disclosure of information held by the College and relating to the contract beyond the restrictions permitted by the Act. The College cannot "contract out" its obligations under the Act. Unless an exemption provided for under the Act is applicable in relation to any particular information, the College will be obliged to disclose that information in response to a request, regardless of the terms of any contract.

When entering into contracts with non-public authority contractors, the College may be under pressure to accept confidentiality clauses so that information relating to the terms of the contract, its value and performance will be exempt from disclosure. The College should reject such clauses wherever possible. Where, exceptionally, it is necessary to include non-disclosure provisions in a contract, an option could be to agree with the contractor a schedule of the contract that clearly identifies information, which should not be disclosed. However, the College will need to take care when drawing up any such schedule, and be aware that any restrictions on disclosure provided for could potentially be overridden by its obligations under the Act, as described in the paragraph above.

In any event, the College should not agree to hold information 'in confidence' which is not in fact confidential in nature. It should be aware that the exemption provided for in the Act only applies if information has been obtained by the College from another person, and the disclosure of the information to the public, other than under the Act, would constitute a breach of confidence actionable by that, or any other, person.

Any acceptance of such confidentiality provisions must be for good reasons and capable of being justified to the Commissioner.

It is for the College to disclose information pursuant to the Act, and not the non-public authority contractor. However, the College may wish to protect from disclosure by the contractor, by appropriate contractual terms, information which it has provided to the contractor, which would clearly be exempt from disclosure under the Act. In order to avoid unnecessary secrecy, any such constraints should be drawn as narrowly as possible, and according to the individual circumstances of the case. Apart from such cases, the College should not impose terms of secrecy on contractors.

The Act empowers the Lord Chancellor to designate, as public authorities for the purposes of the Act, persons (or bodies) who provide under a contract made with a public authority, any service whose provision is a function of that authority. Thus, some non-public authority contractors will be regarded as public authorities within the meaning of the Act, although only in respect of the services provided under the specified contract. As such, and to that extent, the contractor will be required to comply with the Act like any other public authority.

Annex F - Complaints Procedure

DESCRIPTION OF PROCEDURE

Receipt of complaint

Any written correspondence from an applicant (including one transmitted by electronic means) expressing dissatisfaction with the College's response to a valid request for information should be treated as a complaint, as should any writte n communication from a person who perceives the College is n ot complying with its Publication Scheme. These communications should be handled in accordance with the complaints procedure outlined below, even if, in the case of a request for information under the general right of access, the applicant does not state his or her desire for the College to review its deci sion or its handling of the application. Complaints and/ or requests for an internal review of a response to a vaild request for information, should be made within two months of the date of the College's response to the original request for information.

In all cases, complaints should be acknowledged and the complainant should be informed of the College's target date for determining the complaint. Where it is apparent that determination of the complaint will take longer than the target time (for example because of the complexity of the particular case), staff must inform the applicant and explain the reason for the delay. The complainant should always be informed of the outcome of his or her complaint.

Outcome

Where the outcome of a complaint is that information should be disclosed which was previously withheld, the information in question should be disclosed as soon as practicable and the applicant should be informed how soon this will be.

Where the outcome of a complaint is that the College's staff has not properly followed the procedures within the College, the College should apologise to the applicant. The College should also take appropriate steps to prevent similar errors occurring in future.

Where the outcome of a complaint is that an initial decision to withhold information is upheld, or is otherwise in the College's favour, the applicant should be informed of his or her right to apply to the Information Commissioner, and be given details of how to make an application, for a decision on whether the request for information has been dealt with in accordance with the requirements of the Act.

INTERNAL ACTION: STAGE ONE

The Central Secretariat will deal with any initial complaint in an informal manner. If a complaint cannot be dealt with satisfactorily on an informal basis, the Secretariat will inform the complainant about its internal complaints procedure, and also how he or she may contact the Information Commissioner if he or she wishes to do so. The Secretariat must also explain that although the complainant cannot apply to the Commissioner for a decision until the College's Complaints Procedure has been exhausted, the Commissioner might investigate the matter at his or her discretion.

STAGE TWO

Where the complaint concerns a request for information under the general right of access, a person who was not a party to the original decision, where this is practicable, should handle the review. In most instances the College Secretary will conduct the review.

The College Secretary must respond to all complaints within 20 working days.

Code of Practice on Freedom of Information and Research Involving Animals

Information block

Summary

Click below for a downloadable summary of this Code of Practice:

Summary COP on Freedom of information and Research involving animals [pdf].pdf

Definitions

DEFINITIONS

Throughout this document the following terms are used:

a. "The Act" means the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

b. "Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC)" refers to the regulatory body for the Act.

c. "Data Protection" means the Data Protection Act 1998 (as amended), relating to the processing of personal data.

d. "Formal Request" means a written request for information under the provisions of the Act.

Introduction

Freedom of information may have significant consequences for research involving animals at the College. Although the greater availability of information about what animal research is conducted is expected to improve public attitudes to such research, there are also understandable concerns about the potential security threat to research institutions from animal rights extremists, and about increased anti-vivisection campaigning. Although responsible animal welfare organisations would like to see more information available to encourage the spread of good practice in the care of laboratory animals, it seems likely that the most extensive use of the new rights conferred by the Freedom of Information Act will be made by anti-vivisection organisations to:

a. Challenge project licence applications, and suggest non-animal alternatives;

b. Build up a picture of what research is being carried out where, so as to target their campaigns more precisely;

c. Obtain more evidence of animal suffering.

Even though it is likely that anti-vivisection groups will obtain some additional information about animal research projects as a result of the Act, and that this will be used in some of their campaigns, freedom of information could also favour research. The Home Office will be putting the "abridged programme in lay terms" about every new project licence in the public domain via the Home Office web site as indicated in its Application for a Project Licence form. In time this level of openness is expected to have a positive effect on public attitudes to animal research.

This Code of Practice provides guidance on how the College will handle requests for information about research involving animals, which have been submitted under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 ("the Act"). It supplements the College's Freedom of Information Policy and the Code of Practice for Responding to Requests for Information Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. (see above).

Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Act requires that institutions implement and maintain an effective system for responding to requests for information. The College's Policy on Freedom of Information is that it will comply fully with the Act and that it will place in the public domain as much information about its activities as is practicable and, subject to the exemptions permitted under the Act, will make all other information available on request.

The College has a publication scheme which details the classes of information that it has chosen to make publicly available, together with details of how the information can be obtained and any associated cost.

This Code of Practice relates solely to requests for information about research involving animals. Requests for information about other areas of the College's work will be handled under the Code of Practice for Responding to Requests for Information Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in the normal manner. All formal requests under the Act for information about animal research must be passed to the Central Secretariat as a matter of urgency. The Central Secretariat will then consider the request and, in consultation with the appropriate departments/ divisions and project licensees, will determine whether the information requested can be released or if it is subject to any of the exemptions provided under the Act. Any relevant departments will be informed of what information is being released.

Exemptions

Some of the information held by the College may be regarded as exempt information, i.e. it will not have to be provided in response to an individual request. There are 23 such exemptions and they relate to information held for a variety of functions. These include national security, law enforcement, commercial interests, and personal data. To ensure consistency and correct compliance with the legislation the Central Secretariat will be responsible for deciding if an exemption is applicable.

Before relying on an exemption, the Central Secretariat will usually be obliged to consider two further points. First, some of the exemptions can only be claimed if the release of the information would prejudice the purpose to which the exemption relates. Thus information held in connection with law enforcement can only be withheld if its release would, for example, prejudice the prevention or the detection of a crime. Secondly, some of the exemptions also require the College to apply the "public interest" test before making a final decision as to whether or not to release the information. The public interest test requires consideration to given to whether the public interest in withholding information outweighs the public interest in releasing it.

Most of the exemptions will require the Central Secretariat to consider both the test of prejudice and the public interest test. However care must be taken to determine if a specific exemption can be relied upon. It should be noted that only the information to which an exemption applies will be withheld. Thus, if a particular document has been requested which contains some exempt information, only those specific items of exempt information can be withheld. The rest of the document will still have to be released.

The key exemptions which are relevant to research involving animals and which the College will consider using in this respect are:

a. Personal information (as defined by the Data Protection Act);

b. Where disclosure is likely to endanger the safety of any individual;

c. Information received in confidence;

d. Where disclosure would prejudice commercial interests;

e. Information intended for future publication.

Personal information and data protection

The provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 always take precedence over those of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Personal information must always be obtained, processed, stored and disclosed in accordance with the Data Protection Act, even where a request for information has been made under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. This means that personal data about a member of staff cannot be released in response to a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Endangering the safety of an individual

Information that would "endanger the safety of any individual" if released is subject to a qualified exemption under the Act. Before this exemption can be applied, the College must consider whether it is more in the public interest for the information to be released than for it to be withheld. However, the College's primary concern when responding to such requests for information must be to protect its staff from potential attacks by animal rights activists and there will therefore need to be an extremely strong case in respect of the public interest before the College will consider releasing information which might potentially put its staff at risk.

It should also be noted that the Government has also confirmed that it is "committed to the maintenance of necessary protections for individual scientists and their research institutions." (1) It seems unlikely therefore that the Office of the Information Commissioner would force any institution to disclose information which could reveal the identity of a member of staff involved in animal research.

Information provided in confidence

Information that has been provided to the College in confidence is subject to an absolute exemption from disclosure and cannot be released. It is not subject to the public interest test. Confidential information can be defined as information that is passed from one party to another and which is imparted or communicated to the recipient in circumstances "importing an obligation of confidence". However, simply marking a document as confidential does not necessarily make it so; information that is already in the public domain cannot be confidential.

The College conducts a significant amount of research for external and/ or commercial organisations under contract and, although confidential information is exempt from disclosure, the College cannot use this exemption to "contract out" of its obligations under the Act. The Lord Chancellor's Code of Practice on the Discharge of Public Authorities' Functions requires the College, when entering into contracts, to refuse to include contractual terms which purport to restrict the disclosure of information held by the College and relating to the contract beyond the restrictions permitted by the Act. Unless an exemption provided for under the Act is applicable in relation to any particular information, the College will be obliged to disclose that information in response to a request, regardless of the terms of any contract.

In any event, the College should not agree to hold information 'in confidence' which is not in fact confidential in nature. It should be aware that the exemption provided for in the Act only applies if information has been obtained by the College from another person, and the disclosure of the information to the public, other than under the Act, would constitute a breach of confidence actionable by that, or any other, person.

Any acceptance of contractual confidentiality provisions must be for good reasons and must capable of being justified to the Commissioner.

Commercial interests

Information is also exempt from disclosure where it would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it)." It may not always be clear whether information about research conducted at the College has, or might have, a commercial interest for the College. Some research can be clearly identified as having a potential value because of its intellectual property potential. However, the commercial potential of other research might not become apparent until some time later.

In responding to requests for information, the Central Secretariat will liaise with the relevant departments and divisions and with the Imperial College Innovations Ltd to determine whether the release of the information requested would prejudice the College's commercial interests. However, as this is not an absolute exemption, a decision to release or withhold information will also be subject to the public interest test.

Release of information by third parties

There is a concern that animal rights activists may attempt to use a system of "triangulation" to identify individual researchers. Triangulation works by asking for several separate items of information from an organisation, or from a number of organisations, which when put together, would reveal a researcher's identity. The Information Commissioner has stated that it is the responsibility of the organisations whose staff might be vulnerable to warn other holders of information of the potential damage which could be done by release of information that was apparently innocuous, but which, when taken with other information, could reveal the identity of a researcher through triangulation. (2)

When dealing with requests for information the College will consult with third parties before releasing any data that may affect them or their staff. It will also consult with third parties where doing so will assist the College in determining if and how the information should be released. It is likely that many requests for information concerning animal research will involve consultation with the NHS Trusts with which the College has a relationship. In these cases the College will consider with the NHS Trust whether a co-ordinated response should be adopted to ensure that any exemptions are properly assessed and applied and to avoid the possibility that information is being "triangulated".

Release of information by The Home Office

Another concern for staff involved in animal research is that the Home Office, in responding to requests for information made to it, might release confidential and/ or sensitive information contained in Project Licences.

Much of the information in project licences is currently held in confidence by the Home Office under the 'common law' of confidentiality. As noted in Paragraph 15 above, information provided in confidence is exempt from disclosure. When a researcher sends an application to the Home Office, it is implicit that this is being communicated in circumstances "importing an obligation of confidence". It is therefore not necessary to mark project licence applications as 'confidential'.

However, marking a document as confidential does not necessarily make it so. Information that is already in the public domain cannot be confidential. Consequently, the Home Office cannot maintain blanket confidentiality on all of the information it receives in project licence applications. As well as being provided in confidence, there has to be something about the nature of the information provided that makes it confidential. A scientist who has applied his ingenuity and inventiveness to formulate plans for research has produced confidential information. This applies even if the plan was constructed solely from information already in the public domain. It is likely that the average research plan, such as that produced by a researcher in formulating a project licence application, will fit this definition of confidential information. (3)

It is current Home Office policy to consult with licence holders before releasing any information relating to a researcher's work and it is hoped that it will continue to operate this policy once the Act comes fully into force.

Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986

One feature of the Freedom of Information Act is the power to amend or repeal other "enactments" which prohibit disclosure of information. Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which provides that "A person is guilty of an offence if otherwise than for the purpose of discharging his functions under this Act he discloses any information... which he knows or has reasonable grounds for believing to have been given in confidence" is considered to be such a statutory bar to disclosure. This means that, if information is judged under the Freedom of Information Act not to be confidential then Section 24 does not apply. However, where information is deemed to be confidential, Section 24 will continue to afford an additional layer of protection for researchers. (4)

College contacts

Any enquiries about this Code of Practice, or for more details on the College's Freedom of Information Policy and Model Publication Scheme should be directed to:

Freedom of Information Officer
Level 4
Faculty Building
Imperial College London
Exhibition Road
London
SW7 2AZ

Tel: 020 7594 9903
Fax: 020 7594 8802
E-mail: Freedom of Information Office

Footnotes

1. Angela Eagle. Commons Written Answers. 19 October 2001

2. It is unclear how great this risk is. Animal rights activists have been using literature searches for over 20 years to find out which scientists have published research on animals. Many researchers also publish information about their research on their own institution's website as well. So far, the availability of information, or the lack of it, from public institutions is not what has limited the activity of extremists. In recent years most extremism has been directed at commercial companies rather than at universities.

3. In a recent case, Immutran vs Uncaged, the Judge held that project licence applications and related correspondence with the Government amounted to information given in confidence.

4. Section 24 only applies to those with statutory 'functions' under the 1986 Act. This includes: the Home Secretary and Ministers in his department; Civil servants in the Animal Procedures Section; and the Inspectorate and the Animal Procedures Committee. The effect of Section 24 is to make it a criminal offence for any of these people to disclose information which has been given in confidence.