ICO Decision On Cannabis Records Request

Information Commissioner Gutierrez issued Decision 14/2020 which annulled the Ministry of Health’s decision which “administratively denied” a PATI request about correspondence about cannabis law or policy as “frivolous or vexatious.”

A spokesperson said, “Information Commissioner Gutierrez issued Decision 14/2020, Ministry of Health Headquarters [Ministry], involving a Public Access to Information [PATI] request for the Ministry’s external correspondence about cannabis, cannabinoids, cannabis law or policy, or cannabinoid law or policy. The Ministry’s decision administratively denied the PATI request as frivolous or vexatious under section 16[e] of the PATI Act 2010. The Information Commissioner annulled the Ministry’s decision.

“The Information Commissioner found that, when viewed in the totality of the circumstances, that the Ministry did not justify denying the PATI request as frivolous or vexatious under section 16[1][e] of the PATI Act. Specifically, the Information Commissioner found that the Applicant’s pattern of conduct did not amount to an abuse of process.

“A portion of this PATI request did overlap with the records the Ministry had disclosed to the Applicant during two prior PATI requests. But rather than dismiss this entire PATI request, the Information Commissioner found that all evidence indicated that the Ministry could have addressed the overlapping portion of the PATI request with the Applicant, to exclude re‐searching and processing the responsive records which the Ministry had previously disclosed. The Information Commissioner annulled the Ministry’s decision and ordered the Ministry to process the new portions of the PATI request, as described in her Decision, and to issue a new initial decision for those responsive records.

“In her Decision, the Information Commissioner acknowledged that the Ministry had been addressing the Applicant’s PATI requests on a steady basis for years, in addition to informally communicating with the Applicant and voluntarily providing information as a matter of routine. Indeed, this review involved the same Applicant, the same public authority and the same general subject for the records sought as in three prior decisions by the Information Commissioner, Decision 30/2019, Decision 31/2019 and Decision 32/2019.

“These provide background and should be read together with Decision 14/2020. Notably, Decision 32/2019 was the Information Commissioner’s first decision addressing an administrative denial under section 16[1][e] of the PATI Act for a frivolous or vexatious request, and Decision 14/2020 is the second.

“The Information Commissioner cautioned public authorities that the appropriate response to any burden created by the public’s exercise of their rights under the PATI Act should be a careful balancing of the public’s rights with the resource needs of the public authority.

“When a significant public law and policy reform is under consideration, the possibility now exists that a stakeholder will exercise their rights under the PATI Act to request the relevant public records. At this point, public authorities and requesters have the benefit of the Information Commissioner’s decisions in multiple reviews as well as the Minister’s PATI Administrative Code of Practice for Public Authorities, which was issued in January 2020 in accordance with section 60[1] of the PATI Act.”

The full version of Decision 14/2020 follows below [PDF here]:

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