Newspaper wins FOI appeal over names of councillors who failed to pay council tax

A local newspaper has won an appeal to the Upper Tribunal over whether a local authority should be required to reveal the name of a councillor who failed to pay council tax on time.

In 2013 Dale Haslam, a reporter at The Bolton News, submitted a freedom of information request which revealed that two councillors at Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council had been summoned to court for late payment of council tax.

However, the local authority declined to release to the newspaper the names of the councillors concerned.

One of the councillors subsequently came forward to The Bolton News to acknowledge he was one of the two individuals.

The newspaper appealed unsuccessfully to an internal reviewer, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the First-tier Tribunal.

Judge Kate Markus QC has now ruled in the paper’s favour, reportedly saying that “disclosure of the identity of the councillor is necessary to achieve the objectives of transparency and accountability”.

In its coverage of the ruling The Bolton News hailed the decision as “a huge victory”.

Ian Savage, the newspaper's Editor, also told Press Gazette: “It’s ridiculous the council has spent do much time, effort and public money trying to keep secret the identity of a councillor who hasn’t paid council tax. The public interest in this is wholly legitimate."

A spokesperson for Bolton Council said: “We are disappointed that the Upper Tribunal has not upheld previous decisions by the Information Commissioner and the First Tier Tribunal.

“These two independent bodies both supported the council’s original decision to withhold private information about an individual.”

Caroline Kean of law firm Wiggin and Anya Proops QC of 11KBW acted for The Bolton News.

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