FOI has a number of exemptions that permit public authorities to withhold some or all of the information requested, where a justifiable reason exists.
Absolute Exemptions (if one of these applies the information can be withheld)
- Section 21 – Information accessible to applicant by other means
- Section 23 – Information supplied by, or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters
- Section 32 – Court records, etc
- Section 34 – Parliamentary privilege
- Section 36 – (part) Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs (only applies to information held by House of Commons or House of Lords)
- Section 40 – (Part) Personal information (where the applicant is the subject of the information) – or personal data about another person
- Section 41 – Information provided in confidence.
- Section 44 – Prohibitions on disclosure where a disclosure is prohibited by an enactment or would constitute contempt of court.
Qualified Exemptions where the public interest test applies
Even if one of the exemptions applies, the information must be disclosed unless the public interest in withholding it is greater than the public interest in releasing it.
- Section 22 – Information intended for future publication
- Section 24 – National security
- Section 26 – Defence
- Section 27 – International relations
- Section 28 – Relations within the United Kingdom
- Section 29 – The economy
- Section 30 – Investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities
- Section 31 – Law enforcement
- Section 33 – Audit Functions
- Section 35 – Formulation of government policy, etc
- Section 36 – (part) Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs (except information held by the House of Commons or the House of Lords)
- Section 37 – Communications with Her Majesty, etc and honours
- Section 38 – Health and safety
- Section 39 – Environmental information as this can be accessed through the Environmental Information Regulations.
- Section 40 – (Part) Personal data where section 10 of the Data Protection Act applies (i.e. likely to cause damage or distress)
- Section 42 – Legal professional privilege
- Section 43 – Commercial interests