Please could you release a list of any documents requested from the National Archives by the Department of Exiting The European Union (DEXEU), the Department of International Trade (DIT), the Cabinet Office, the Foreign Office or Number 10 Downing Street, since 23rd June 2016 – along with the dates on which the requests were made if possible.
Following our update email to you on 28 August 2018, we are writing to confirm that your below request has been refused under section 14 – vexatious requests.
Your request has been handled under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000. The FOI Act gives you the right to know whether we hold the information you want and to have it communicated to you, subject to any provisions or exemptions that may apply.
We should have provided this refusal notice to you within the 20-day period required by the Act, and The National Archives apologises for this.
In order to clarify our position, and the reason for originally extending your request for a public interest test under section 35, we would like to explain the process that your request has gone through:
• The National Archives first gathered all of the information in scope of your request – the list of files that have been requested by the departments that you specified. Cabinet Office, Number 10 Downing Street, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) were the only departments that had requested files from The National Archives within the timeframe that you specified.
• In consultation with the Cabinet Office and the FCO, it was identified that section 35 applied to some of the information and the request was therefore extended for the completion of the public interest test.
• During this process, it became clear that, given the large amount of information in scope, the specific file references that the section 35 exemption applies to could not easily be isolated because the information is scattered throughout the requested material.
Section 14(1) – Vexatious Requests
Section 14(1) sets out grounds on which a public authority may refuse a request where the request is vexatious. Where section 14(1) applies, the public authority does not have to provide the information requested.
Section 14(1) is concerned with whether the request is vexatious in terms of the effect of the request on the public authority, and not whether the applicant is vexatious.
The scope and application of the section 14(1) exemption is laid out in detail in Dransfield v Information Commissioner  Court of Appeal Decision: EWCA Civ 454 (14 May 2015).
This judgement calls for balancing the need to protect public authorities from vexatious requests on the one hand, without unfairly impairing the rights of individuals to access information under the FOI Act.
ICO Guidance – Dealing with vexatious requests
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which monitors compliance with FOI Act nationally, suggests a general approach to determining whether a request is vexatious. It focuses on five questions, including the following question that is relevant to this request:
‘Would complying with the request impose a significant burden?’
The ICO consider there to be a high threshold for refusing a request on grounds of a significant burden, and suggest an authority is most likely to have a viable case where:
• The requester has asked for a substantial volume of information AND
• The authority has real concerns about potentially exempt information, which it will be able to substantiate if asked to do so by the ICO AND
• Any potentially exempt information cannot easily be isolated because it is scattered throughout the requested material.
We have judged your request based on the above factors and concluded that all three circumstances apply to this case. To comply with this request would impose a significant burden on The National Archives and it should therefore be deemed vexatious.
We do not hold any information for documents requisitioned by the Department of Exiting The European Union or the Department of International Trade. Requisition requests can only be made by the originating department (the department that transferred a record to us) and we do not hold any records created by these departments, as they were only set up in 2016. If these departments wish to consult records belonging to another department, they can do so by contacting the originating department.
Section 16 – Advice and Assistance
If you were to refine your request, we may be able to provide further assistance. For example, you could try reducing the scope of your request to one department for the period of one month or, for all three departments, a period of two weeks. Although, we are unable to guarantee that any refined requests would fall outside of a significant burden to the organisation.
You may find this guidance on making an FOI request useful to narrow the scope of your request: