Monday 29 October 2012

Glasgow City Council loses FOI case on burials

I've received the following from Sheila Duffy of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society (, who has herself received it from one of the society's members (thanks to both). It concerns a decision made by the Scottish Information Commissioner in March 2012, and so events may have been superseded since then (perhaps via appeal).

In September 2010 John McKnight requested information from Glasgow City Council concerning two burials within Glasgow's Eastern Necropolis, essentially asking for details of who was buried in a lair there. The council stated that to perform a search would cost £62. The alternatives were to use search facilities at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow or at New Register House, Edinburgh. Unsatisfied, John McKnight resubmitted his application as a request under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act (FOISA), but was turned down by the Council. The request was unsuccessfully appealed and then sent to the Information Commissioner for adjudication.

In her decision, the Information Commissioner ruled that the council had failed to prove that it could block the FOISA request through various lines of argument. For example, New Register House does not have any burials information for the cemetery, and the Mitchell Library only holds records from 1847-1918, with the info only publicly available on 6 very poorly photographed and unindexed microfilms (I know how bad they are, I've tried to use them myself!). The application specified no time scale, so this was clearly inadequate also. The FOI exemptions quoted by the Council also did not apply in this case.

In the investigation there are some interesting revelations - the publication scheme created in 2004 that the Council was relying on expired in 2009 and was not replaced, and there is also news on the work being carried out by the National Records of Scotland with the Mitchell Library and Family Search (records have been digitised but yet to be indexed), so a worthwhile read. The final decision was as follows:


The Commissioner finds that Glasgow City Council (the Council) failed to comply with Part 1 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) in responding to the information request made by Mr McKnight. By incorrectly withholding the information in terms of sections 25(1) and 33(1)(b) of FOISA, the Council failed to comply with section 1(1) of FOISA.

In order to comply with Part 1 of FOISA, the Commissioner therefore requires the Council to provide Mr McKnight with the information withheld, or to issue a notice to Mr McKnight in terms of sections 9 or 12 of FOISA by 15 May 2012

The Commissioner also finds that the Council failed to respond to Mr McKnight’s requirement for review within the timescale specified in section 21(1) of FOISA. The Commissioner does not require the Council to take any action in respect of this failure, in response to Mr McKnight’s application.

It has been suggested that it might be worth getting FOISA applications in on the basis of using this as a precedent, though do bear in mind if you choose to do so that the Information Commissioner does advise that "she will decide each case on an individual basis". I am also unclear as to whether this has been appealed by the council and if there has been any follow up.

The full decision is available at


Scotland 1750-1850 - 5 weeks online Pharos course, £45.99, taught by Chris Paton from 2 NOV 2012 - see
New book: It's Perthshire 1866 - there's been a murder... (from June 12th 2012)

1 comment:

  1. I phoned Glasgow's cemeteries dept to ask whether (and where) a named person (plus year of death) might be buried. I was told sharply that this was FAMILY HISTORY RESEARCH, and so denied. I responded by saying I did not want any family history research, but simply an answer to a basic question. The response this time was better: "I suppose I could look up the database", and shortly thereafter was informed that the person was not in their database.