Global index of FOI rulings online, for legal guidance

 

An aid for Canadian and other researchers

 

 

( Column AE of the World FOI Chart )

 

 

Beyond the statutes, freedom of information law can be heavily shaped by judicial interpretations, and so is ever evolving. Hence it is important for FOI applicants, scholars and advocates to be aware of recent trends.

 

When arguing to FOI appellate bodies that information should be released in response to my FOI requests, I have often found it useful to find and cite related rulings from other jurisdictions. Government lawyers have done so for many years (at public expense) to obstruct FOI releases, and why should the public not be able to do the same for the opposite purpose?

 

Even though such rulings are not binding precedents, they can at least offer in-depth consideration on an FOI topic for a commissioner or judge to contemplate, and concepts that could work to an applicant’s favour. Applicants often have a stronger FOI legal case than they realize, and these free indices might assist them on occasion.

 

Of course, the wording of a topic exemption (such as law enforcement) in various FOI statutes can differ in many ways – e.g., being mandatory or discretionary, with a harms test and time limits or without, subject to a public interest override or not – yet the general principles at stake may still be similar enough to offer some guidance when formulating arguments or decisions.  

 

For Canadians, rulings from Commonwealth nations, having a similar legal tradition, will generally be more persuasive, yet if literature on a specialized FOI topic is very scant, it may be advantageous to search further afield, e.g., not inconceivably from the United States or France (such as for Quebec provincial FOI cases). If readers know of other such national indices, I would be pleased to add them to this webpage; my email contact is noted below.

 

Procedures

 

• A basic guidebook to the Canadian ATIA statute and precedents is Colonel Michel W. Drapeau and Marc-Aurele Racicot, Federal Access to Information and Privacy Legislation, Annotated 2009. Toronto: Thomson Carswell, 2008, updated annually.

 

(This volume includes an instructional chapter on filing an ATIA appeal oneself; the Information Commissioner’s office has issued a pamphlet to educate applicants for the same purpose. Some applicants can overcome financial limitations, most notably Ken Rubin, a private citizen and likely Canada’s most effective and prolific ATIA user, who often files his own ATIA lawsuits, represents himself in court and sometimes wins cases. The applicant bears the modest risk of being assessed with court costs.)

 

• For Canadian provincial laws and rulings, an essential sourcebook is Colin McNairn and Christopher Woodbury's Government Information: Access and Privacy, updated annually with looseleaf supplements. Toronto: Carswell, 2008

 

• Beyond published texts, the number of free internet FOI resources is expanding yearly, and online legal research is fortunately not quite so daunting as it may seem. The procedure below might be helpful:

 

1) Click on the World FOI Chart, (www3.telus.net/index100/foi), and search therein for the column of the topic that concerns you. (This will often be in Column ‘M,’ Exemptions to Disclosure.)

 

For example, perhaps a British Columbia public body has denied your FOI request to see a copy of a public-private business contract, invoking Section 17 of the B.C. FOIPP Act: ‘Disclosure harmful to the financial or economic interests of a public body.’

 

When you scroll down Column M, one can see an equivalent to B.C.’s Section 17 in the FOI laws of Australia (Sec. 38), Mexico (Art. 13 - III), the United Kingdom (Sec. 29), Scotland (Sec. 33), and others. (Again, I emphasize that provisions are often roughly and not precisely analogous.)

 

2) Next, click onto the websites of the indices of FOI decisions, cited below. e.g., for the U.K., link to http://www.ico.gov.uk/tools_and_resources/decision_notices.aspx and search by U.K.’s FOI law section, or by subject keywords, for a discussion of the relevant topic.  (For more information on these procedures, one could call the Information Commissioners’ office in each jurisdiction.)

 

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CANADA

 

Access to Information Act (1982)

 

• The Canadian Information Commissioner’s office has an online ‘Cumulative Index of Annual Report Case Summaries’ at:  http://www.infocom.gc.ca/reports/defaultcs-e.asp Reports can be searched by ATIA section. (The Commissioner has not the statutory power to order information release.)

 

• The Commissioner’s annual reports also contain useful summaries of selected cases at: http://www.infocom.gc.ca/reports/default-e.asp

 

• At the Federal Court website, rulings on ATIA disputes can be found at: http://decisions.fca-caf.gc.ca/en/index.html (Typing in ‘Access to Information Act’ in the search engine returns 1,853 results.) One can search by keyword, title or case name; or by citation or docket number. 

 

• The Federal Appeal Court and Supreme Court of Canada have also dealt with ATIA cases - http://www.fca-caf.gc.ca/about/history/history_e.shtml   and  http://www.scc-csc.gc.ca/home-accueil/index-eng.asp

 

 

UNITED KINGDOM

 

Freedom of Information Act (2000, effective 2005)

 

• The UK Information Commissioner’s office has a superb online index of decisions at: http://www.ico.gov.uk/tools_and_resources/decision_notices.aspx 

The Commissioner has the statutory power to order information release; these decisions can be appealed to the Information Tribunal, and after that to the courts. ‘All Decision Notices are easily and quickly referenced using the dedicated search engine.’ Notices can be searched by case reference number, date, public authority, FOI law section, and/or status of case. 

• See also the Commissioner’s webpage of special guides on how to interpret the FOI - many pages of interpretation of each type of FOI exemption, notes of impressive detail and acumen. http://www.ico.gov.uk/tools_and_resources/document_library/freedom_of_information.aspx

 

• The UK Information Tribunal has an online index of nearly 200 decisions at: http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/Decisions/foi.htm (Cases currently being appealed to a higher court are marked with a special symbol.)

 

• There is a link to other relevant UK FOI court decisions at: http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/Decisions/other.htm

 

United Kingdom courts website - http://www.justice.gov.uk/whatwedo/supremecourt.htm

 

 

SCOTLAND

 

Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act  (2002)

 

• Scottish Information Commissioner’s website, fully searchable database of 662 decisions at: http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/ApplicationsandDecisions/Decisions/Decisions.php

 

• Scottish courts website - http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/

 

AUSTRALIA

 

Freedom of Information Act (1982)

 

Under the Act, applicants have a number of different appeal avenues. They can appeal internally, and then request a merits review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, http://www.aat.gov.au (which can issue binding decisions), followed by appeals on possible errors of law to the Federal Court or High Court. In addition, an applicant can make a complaint at any time on matters of administration to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, whose decisions are not binding.’

 

• Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s rulings (not all on FOI matters) athttp://www.ombudsman.gov.au/commonwealth/publish.nsf/Content/publications_investigationreports_2007

 

• Ombudsman reports at:  http://www.ombudsman.gov.au/commonwealth/publish.nsf/Content/publications_investigationreports_2007

 

• The most complete set of Australian FOI links is at: http://www.archives.sa.gov.au/foi/links.html

 

Australia courts websites - http://www.fedcourt.gov.au/  and  http://www.hcourt.gov.au/

 

 

AUSTRALIAN STATES AND TERRITORIES

 

• Decisions of the Western Australia Information Commissioner at: http://www.foi.wa.gov.au/Decisions.htm  Search index by keyword or section

 

• Decisions of the Queensland Information Commissioner at:

http://www.oic.qld.gov.au/default.asp?p=28  Search index by keyword or section

 

Queensland judicial review decisions at: http://www.oic.qld.gov.au/default.asp?p=27

 

• Decisions of the Northern Territory Information Commissioner at:  http://www.infocomm.nt.gov.au/publications/index.htm

 

• Decisions of the New South Wales Administrative Appeals Tribunal at:

http://www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lawlink/caselaw/ll_caselaw.nsf/pages/cl_adt

(Search term ‘Freedom of information’)

 

• State Ombudsman of South Australia - Annual reports with FOI reviews chapters at: http://www.ombudsman.sa.gov.au/index.php?page=publications&load=01

 

• State Ombudsman of Tasmania - Annual reports with FOI reviews chapters at:

http://www.ombudsman.tas.gov.au/publications/annual_reports  FOI reviews chapters.

 

• State Ombudsman of Victoria - Annual reports with FOI reviews chapters at:

http://www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au/www/html/84-annual-report-2007-08.asp

 

 

NEW ZEALAND

 

Official Information Act (1982)

 

• Ombudsman – FOI case notes at http://www.softlinkpacific.co.nz/OMBliberty3/gateway/gateway.exe?application=Liberty3&displayform=opac/main

 

New Zealand courts websites - http://www.justice.govt.nz/

 

IRELAND

 

Freedom of Information Act (1997)

 

• Decisions of the Information Commissioner, search at: http://www.oic.gov.ie/en/DecisionsoftheCommissioner/

 

Ireland courts website - http://www.courts.ie/

 

INDIA

 

Right to Information Act (2005)

 

An internal appeal can be made against decisions to a nominated person who is senior in rank to the PIO. A second appeal can be made to the Information Commissions at the Central and State levels or alternatively, a complaint can be made directly to these Commissions, who can make binding decisions. The Act attempts to bar appeals to the courts, but as the right to information is a constitutional right, it would appear that citizens still have the right to go to the High Court or Supreme Court if they feel their right has been infringed.

 

• Central Information Commissions at http://cic.gov.in/

Here are hundreds of ‘full bench’ decisions, recent decisions, and more. Type keywords into search engine. Also see link to ‘Landmark orders of State Information Commissions.’

 

India courts website - http://indiancourts.nic.in/

 

SOUTH AFRICA

 

Promotion of Access to Information Act (2000)

 

• The supervision and promotion of the PAIA is the responsibility of the South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), but it cannot order information released. FOI appeals are made to the courts.

 

• Constitutional court case index at http://www.constitutionalcourt.org.za   

 

South Africa courts website - http://www.capegateway.gov.za/afr/pubs/public_info/C/32303/E

 

 

UNITED STATES

 

Freedom of Information Act  (1966)

 

• Department of Justice website, summaries of new FOIA decisions at: http://www.usdoj.gov/oip/foiapost/mainpage.htm Use search engine, e.g., “Exemption 4”  

 

• Public Citizen, a national non-profit public interest organization, posts FOIA cases at:

http://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/casesbytopic.cfm

 

(DOJ compilation of judicial decisions, both published and unpublished, and articles and treatises concerning the Freedom of Information Act, the Privacy Act of 1974, the Government in the Sunshine Act, and the Federal Advisory Committee Act.)

 

Public Citizen posts links to:

 

• First Amendment Center – links to FOIA litigation news at:

http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/press/information/cases_resources_summary.aspx

 

• There are also court cases regarding the distinct FOI laws of each American state. These are all posted at http://nfoic.org/foi-center/state-foi-laws.html

 

FRANCE

 

Law on Access to Administrative Documents (1978)

 

• Commission d'accèss aux documents administratifs (CADA), the FOI appellate body.

Documents on FOI disputes at: http://www.cada.fr/fr/conseils/frame.htm

 

• French courts website - http://www.courdecassation.fr/

 

 

ISRAEL

 

Freedom of Information Law (1998)

 

• Israel Supreme Court decisions at: http://elyon1.court.gov.il/verdictssearch/englishverdictssearch.aspx

Enter “Freedom of Information” (which returns hundreds of results) or other keywords in search engine. Also see websites of other courts.

 

Israel courts website - http://elyon1.court.gov.il/eng/home/index.html

 

 

MEXICO

 

Federal Law of Transparency and Access to Public Government Information (2002)

 

• Federal Institute for Access to Public Information (IFAI), the FOI appellate body.

Search rulings at: http://www.ifai.org.mx/  (In Spanish)

 

 

SLOVENIA

 

Access to Public Information Act (ZDIJZ), 2003

 

• Information Commissioner's decisions (in English) -  http://www.ip-rs.si/index.php?id=384

 

 

See links to other national Information Commissioner, Ombudsman, and court websites in Column S of the World FOI Chart.

 

 

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CANADIAN PROVINCES

 

The Information and Privacy Commissioners in five provinces - British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island - have the power to order government to release records. As well as the case indices below, there are summaries of selected cases in the Commissioners’ online annual reports, which can be word-searched by the standard Cntl-F function.

 

 

BRITISH COLUMBIA

 

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (1992)

 

Sectional Index - orders organized by FIPPA sections at:  

http://www.oipcbc.org/sector_public/orders_decisions/sectional_index.htm

 

‘Please note that we have not necessarily listed every order that discusses a particular section. This table has been amended to reflect 1996 re-numbering of certain sections in FIPPA. An asterisk (*) indicates the order was the subject of an application for judicial review.  Click here to view a table of judicial reviews:

http://oipc.bc.ca/sector_public/orders_decisions/judical_reviews.htm  Orders that are in bold type indicate that the order contains extensive discussion of the section in question. These orders are highlighted for convenience only. Each case is decided on its facts and other orders may also be relevant to your situation.’

 

• B.C. courts website - http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/

 

ALBERTA

 

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act  (1994)

 

• Orders indexed by section or keywords at: http://www.oipc.ab.ca/orders/orders.cfm

 

• Case summaries at:

http://www.oipc.ab.ca/orders/summaries.cfm

‘The following case summaries are completed for select cases that the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner determines may have educational value for Albertans, or are indicative of common privacy or access issues facing organizations, custodians or individuals. The case summary page does not include summaries for published Investigation Reports or Orders, as this information is available under the previous menu. Many complaints received by the OIPC are resolved without the need for an inquiry.’

 

• Judicial reviews of Alberta FOI cases at: http://www.oipc.ab.ca/orders/judicial.cfm

 

Alberta courts website - http://www.albertacourts.ab.ca/

 

SASKATCHEWAN

 

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act  (1991)

 

• Review reports discuss sections applied of FOIPP Act, as noted in index at:

http://www.oipc.sk.ca/reviews.htm

 

Saskatchewan courts website - http://www.sasklawcourts.ca/

 

MANITOBA

 

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act  (1985)

 

• Selected FOI case summaries by Ombudsman after 2003 at: http://www.ombudsman.mb.ca/casesummaries.htm

 

Prior to that year, case summaries were included in the Ombudsman’s annual report. ‘Listed under these ‘Access’ and ‘Privacy’ subheadings are case summaries never before published by our office as well as those that were featured in the Ombudsman’s Annual Report on Access and Privacy for the years 1998, 1999 and 2000.’ See: 

http://www.ombudsman.mb.ca/casesummaries-fippa.htm#access

 

Manitoba courts website – http://www.manitobacourts.mb.ca/

 

ONTARIO

 

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act  (1987)

 

• Browse all Commission’s FOI decisions and resolutions, by keyword or Act section, at:

http://www.ipc.on.ca/index.asp?navid=62 

 

• Reconsideration Table at:  http://www.ipc.on.ca/index.asp?navid=68

 

• Judicial review of municipal orders at: http://www.ipc.on.ca/index.asp?navid=69

 

• Judicial review of provincial orders at: http://www.ipc.on.ca/index.asp?navid=70

 

Ontario courts website - http://www.ontariocourts.on.ca/ocj/en/

 

QUEBEC

 

An Act Respecting Access to Documents Held by Public Bodies and the Protection of Personal Information  (1982)

 

• Index of FOI decisions, in English, at:   http://www.cai.gouv.qc.ca/index-en.html

(2001-03)

 

• Index of decisions, en Francais, at: http://www.cai.gouv.qc.ca/index.html

(2000-2008)   

 

• Index of FOI jurisprudence, indexed by Act’s section, en Francais, at: http://www.cai.gouv.qc.ca/index.html

 

Quebec courts website - http://www.tribunaux.qc.ca/mjq_en/c-quebec/index-cq.html

 

 

NEW BRUNSWICK

 

Right to Information Act  (1978)

 

• Most Ombudsman recommendations issued since January 2006 concerning Right to Information Act petitions are posted at: http://www.gnb.ca/0073/RightInfoAct-e.asp

 

New Brunswick courts website - http://www.gnb.ca/Cour/index-e.asp

 

 

NOVA SCOTIA

 

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act  (1977)

 

Table of Concordance for FOI case reports after 2002 at: http://foipop.ns.ca//rep_prov.html

 

Nova Scotia courts website - http://www.courts.ns.ca/

 

 

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

 

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act  (2001)

 

• Index to FOI orders at: http://www.assembly.pe.ca/index.php3?number=1021417

 

• Index to FOI judicial reviews at: http://www.assembly.pe.ca/index.php3?number=1013953

 

Prince Edward Island courts website - http://www.gov.pe.ca/courts/

 

 

NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

 

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act  (1981) /  Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act  (2002)

 

• Index of references to the Commissioner’s FOI case reports at:

http://www.oipc.gov.nl.ca/tableofconcordance.htm

 

Newfoundland and Labrador courts website - http://www.court.nl.ca/

 

 

THE TERRITORIES

 

No online rulings indices could be found for the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

 

Yukon Territories courts website - http://www.yukoncourts.ca/

 

Northwest Territories courts website - http://www.nwtcourts.ca/

 

Nunavut court website - http://www.nucj.ca/

 

 

 

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Webmaster: stanleytromp@gmail.com

 

Updated October 2009

 

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