Case number: 000093
Request for access to details of the location of fur farms in Ireland - whether the public interest would be better served by the granting of such access - section 23
The Applicant sought a review of the decision of the Department to grant access, in the public interest to, inter alia, the names and addresses of fur farms in Ireland. The Applicant contended that release of the names and addresses would expose the farms to attack. The Applicant provided media reports of such incidents in the UK.
The Commissioner found that the potential risk to fur farms following release of such information was sufficient to consider that the public interest in release was not greater than the public interest in refusing access. Additionally, the Comissioner consdered that section 23(1)(c) of the FOI Act applied to the information. The Commissioner annulled the decision of the Department to release the names and addresses of the fur farms.
Our Reference: 000093
Dear Ms X
I refer to previous correspondence in relation to your application to the Information Commissioner for a review of the decision of the Department of Agriculture and Food ("the Department") to release the names and addresses of fur farms. I have been authorised by the Information Commissioner to conduct this review on his behalf. I appreciate that you would have wished to obtain a decision at an earlier date but, unfortunately, due to the large number of cases pending before the Commissioner, this did not prove possible.
I have now completed my review of the Department's decision. In carrying out this review, I have had regard to the Department's decision of 7 February 2000 on the matter, to the Department's letter of 8 March 2000 to the requester which provides much of the information which had been sought, to your submission of 21 February 2000 and to your telephone conversation with Ms. O'Connor on 14 June 2001 of this Office in response to her letter of 8 June 2001.
In this case, the requester sought access to the following information:
In its decision letter, the Department proposed the release of all the information above and you appealed that decision insofar as it concerned the release of the names and addresses of the fur farms. In its letter of 8 March 2000, the Department provided the requester with the information it held in relation to points 2 to 6 above but withheld the names and addresses of the farms and the records of inspections of the fur farms. The Department has recently confirmed to me that it has released the records of the inspection of the farms, but as provided under section 13 of the FOI Act, with the deletion of the names and addresses and/or any references which could identify the locations of the farms.
My review is concerned solely therefore with the question of whether the Department's decision to grant access to the names and addresses (locations) of the fur farms was correct.
I note that the Department originally consulted you on the basis that section 26, 27 or 28 of the Act applied but that the public interest might be better served by the release of the information in question. The Department eventually decided to release this information on the ground that the public interest would, on balance, be better served by doing so, but it did not indicate which of the exemptions contained in section 26, 27 or 28 applied. Having considered the matter it seems to me that the exemption which is most apt is that contained in section 27(1)(b). Section 27(1)(b) provides, inter alia, that a head shall refuse access (subject to the public interest test in section 27(3)) if access could reasonably be expected to result in a material financial loss to the person to whom the information relates.
In your submission, you objected to the release of the names and addresses of fur farms because of the "appalling abuse of fur farms, fur farmers and their families by certain animal rights activists" and you provided evidence in support of your view viz various publications of such incidents in the UK. I do not accept in this instance that the public interest would, on balance, be better served in releasing this information than in refusing it.
Furthermore, I believe that there would be grounds on which a claim to exemption would be justified under section 23(1)(c) of the Act. Section 23(1)(c) allows a public body to refuse access in circumstances where:
"be expected to.....
(c) facilitate the commission of an offence".
In your telephone conversation of 14 June 2001 with Ms. O'Connor, you argue that the location of the fur farms is not in the public domain and that such information is not publicised unnecessarily. There are people who object strenuously to the existence of such farms and that some of these people have, in the past, attacked farms in the UK, causing material losses. In the circumstances I accept that the public availability of the names and addresses of Irish fur farms could reasonably be expected to result in similar activities. In making this finding I am not suggesting that the [name of original requester] would be a party to such attacks or would condone them. In the circumstances, I am satisfied that making such information available under the FOI Act would facilitate (in the sense of make easier) the commission of offences in the form of attacks on these farms. I am of the view that section 23(1)(c) also applies. Accordingly, I consider that the Department should not release the names and addresses of the farms.
Having carried out a review under section 34(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 I hereby annul the decision of the Department of Agriculture and Food to release the names and addresses of the fur farms.
A party to a review, or any other person affected by a decision of the Information Commissioner following a review, may appeal to the High Court on a point of law arising from the decision. Such an appeal must be initiated not later than four weeks from the date of this letter.