Request for documents relating to a party’s tender for land offered by Council
Request for documents relating to tender submitted by another party (X) for land being offered for sale by Council—negotiations subject of legal proceedings—name suppression sought by X—Council refused to confirm or deny existence of information—information normally publicly available—information provided to requester subject to minor deletions to protect privacy
This request was for a copy of any tender submitted by a particular individual (X) for land being offered for sale by a District Council in a rating sale; confirmation that X was the successful tenderer; a copy of the title for the piece of land in question; and a copy of any letter from X advising the Council that he no longer wished to purchase the land. The Council’s normal policy was that names of tenderers and total amounts of tender prices were made readily available to the public. In this instance, however, the Council gave notice to the requester pursuant to section 8 of LGOIMA that it neither confirmed nor denied the existence or non-existence of the information.
The background to this response was that a dispute had arisen between the Council and X following the Council’s acceptance of X’s tender; and as a result X had instituted legal proceedings against the Council. To protect his privacy, X had applied to the High Court for name suppression in relation to the proceedings. The application had been refused by the High Court, and X had lodged an appeal with the Court of Appeal. In these circumstances, the Council argued that the interests protected by section 6 would be prejudiced unless it refused to confirm or deny the existence of the information, because it would be pre-empting the Court of Appeal’s decision were it to make available to the requester any information linking X by name with the transaction. The Court of Appeal subsequently adjourned X’s application sine die (with no appointed date for resumption).
The preliminary view formed was that as no order suppressing X’s name was in force at the time the request was made, section 6 of LGOIMA did not apply to the information at issue, and therefore the Council did not have grounds to invoke section 8. Accordingly, it was considered that all of the information which the Council would normally make available should be provided to the requester, although details of his address could be withheld pursuant to section 7(2)(a) of LGOIMA. The last item of the request could be refused pursuant to section 17(e) of the Act, since no such letter existed.
After consideration of X’s comments on this view, and in particular his wish to maintain his privacy, the Privacy Commissioner was consulted. The final view formed was that, notwithstanding considerable sympathy for X’s position, the information at issue, X’s name, was, or would become, on the registration of the transfer of the land, a matter of public record and was not information which would normally attract a high level of privacy interest. The public interest in the sale of a piece of land owned by a local authority was considered to outweigh any privacy interests attaching to the purchaser’s name. Copies of the successful tender, confirmation of its acceptance, and the title to the land in question were accordingly released to the requester, but with details of X’s address deleted.
This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.