Line to take - LTT70 - Public interest in preventing crime against individuals

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  • FOI/EIR: FOI
  • Section/Regulation: s31(1)(a)
  • Issue: Public interest in preventing crime against individuals
  • Source: Information Tribunal
  • Details: England / LB Bexley (10 May 2007)
  • Related Lines to Take: n/a
  • Related Documents: EA/2006/0060 & EA/2006/0066, FS50072190
  • Contact: RM
  • Date: 24/09/2007
  • Policy Reference: LTT70
  • © Copyright Information Commissioner's Office, re-used with permission
  • Original source linked from here: LTT


Line to take

The public interest in preventing crime against private individuals is greater than that in preventing crime against public authorities or bodies corporate. The impact of crime on individuals as an inherent part of the public interest will be a significant factor in favour of maintaining the exemption in the relevant circumstances.

Further Information

In England & L B of Bexley v the Commissioner the applicant had requested a list of empty houses compiled by the council; these were both empty properties owned by public sector bodies and those owned by private individuals. The Tribunal established that providing such a list was likely to increase the risk of crime against those properties and so s31(1)(a) was engaged. In considering the public interest in maintaining the exemption the Tribunal heard evidence about the effects that crime had on private individuals.

It found that “... in relation to properties that are not owned by individuals but rather by the public sector... ,whilst the issues concerning the damage to property are relevant and the impact on the area, the impact on the individuals as owners, is not a factor that will be in play. This in our view has the effect of lessening the public interest in maintaining the exemption...“ (para 79)

The Tribunal went on to say that in relation to properties owned by individuals, “The impact of crime on individuals as an inherent part of the public interest in this circumstance is a significant factor and leads to the exemption outweighing the public interest in disclosure in our view. However, for those properties that are owned by those other than individuals, including public authorities, our conclusion is that it does not, and the public interest is in favour of disclosure. This is because the impact of crime on an individual is not present and this inherent aspect of the public interest in preventing crime is therefore absent and changes the analysis of the balance.” (para 86)

The Tribunal’s decision was that the addresses of empty properties not owned by individuals should be released together with the names of those owners.

Although it is clear that the Tribunal placed greater weight on the public interest in protecting individuals from the impact of crime, this certainly does not mean there is little public interest in protecting public authorities or bodies corporate against crime. It’s merely that there is a heightened public interest in protecting individuals.

Comment

The Tribunal certainly heard evidence that private residents who lived next door to empty property could suffer as a consequence of an empty property being targeted by criminals (para 67). Such a risk would exist regardless of who owned the empty property. The Commissioner would agree that in weighing the public interest in favour of maintaining s31 it is valid to consider the indirect effects of crime.

It’s not clear what weight the Tribunal gave to this consideration. It did however take account the fact if the information was released it could be used to put pressure on owners to bring empty property back into use or as it was “...owners being frightened into disposal...”. The Tribunal found that this would have more impact on individuals.