London Metropolitan University has continued with its policy of withholding governing council minutes from the public for a year after meetings are held despite a warning from the Information Commissioner’s Office that this is likely to be in breach of its guidelines.
After an 11-month battle by Times Higher Education to obtain council minutes under the Freedom of Information Act, the commissioner wrote in December that London Met’s policy of withholding the minutes for 12 months after each meeting was “unlikely” to be in line with the ICO’s guidance.
Minutes should be published “reasonably soon after the meeting has been held”, the commissioner’s letter noted.
“The commissioner considers it unlikely that publishing minutes 12 months after the date of a meeting could be deemed reasonably soon,” it added.
It urged the university to consider whether the delay could be reduced “to reflect the spirit of the legislation and the commissioner’s guidance”.
After this decision, THE made another FoI request for the university’s unreleased minutes.
But the university has again refused this request, citing an exemption to the act if an institution has a “settled intention” to publish them at a date in the future.
In its response, it acknowledges the commissioner’s letter but argues that it constitutes a “comment” rather than a “judgement…on the part of the ICO that 12 months from meeting to publication of minutes would definitely be considered an unreasonably lengthy period of time”.
It said that while there was a “general public interest in transparency, good governance and the actions of public bodies”, this was “already served” by the minutes being published 12 months after each meeting. “Further, there is no public interest in information being released prematurely into the public domain which may have an adverse effect on the university, its key stakeholders, staff and students,” it argues.
However, it did say that the university’s governance committee was considering whether to reduce the 12-month delay period.
THE has requested an internal review of the decision. If the outcome of this review is considered unsatisfactory, the case can be taken to the ICO for a judgement.