Requests for names of food outlets which did not meet food hygiene standards
Requests for names of food outlets which did not meet food hygiene standards—requests refused—disclosure would be likely to prejudice the investigation and detection of food hygiene and health offences
A City Council issued a news release stating that a number of food premises in the city would be closed down in the following two weeks unless their owners and managers demonstrated that they were complying with food hygiene standards. Local newspapers requested a list of the names of the food premises concerned. The Council refused both requests citing sections 6(a), 7(2)(b)(ii) and 7(2)(d) of LGOIMA.
Section 6(a) provides good reason to withhold official information if the making available of that information would be likely to prejudice the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, investigation, and detection of offences, and the right to a fair trial. In deciding whether section 6(a) applied in these cases, two questions required consideration:
What would be the effect of disclosure of the information at issue on the surveillance of the food premises concerned? and
Was there a real and substantial risk that disclosure would prejudice an interest that section 6(a) seeks to protect?
The Council explained that it believed disclosure of the names of the food premises would prejudice the steps it intended to take to investigate and detect offences. The Council noted that the premises were under particular scrutiny in relation to food hygiene and health offences. The Council relied on a system of unannounced ‘spot’ inspections to get as true a picture as possible of the normal operating conditions and ongoing level of compliance by the food premises. None of the owners or occupiers of the food premises which were the subject of the Council’s news release knew that their own food premises were one of those referred to in the news release or that they would definitely be receiving a ‘spot’ inspection. If the names were disclosed to the requesters, some owners or occupiers might take short term measures to prepare for the inspections. As a consequence, the Council would not get a true picture of the on-going normal level of compliance, thereby defeating the purpose of the Council’s surveillance programme and prejudicing the investigation and detection of offences.
The view was formed that in light of the method adopted by the Council for investigating and detecting offences relating to food hygiene and health requirements, it had established that release of the information would be likely to prejudice its ability to maintain the relevant law. Accordingly, the Council was entitled to withhold the information in reliance on section 6(a).
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.