"The disclosure of the information requested is very likely to prejudice and cause irreparable damage to the international relations between the College and Saudi Arabia".
Date: 25 July 2016
Our Reference: FOIA-2016-0059
Your Reference: N/A
(Via email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dear Mr Franklin,
RE: Freedom of Information Act 2000 Request
I write in response to your Freedom of Information Act 2000 (or ‘FoIA 2000’) request dated 16 June 2016. I note from your request that you seek the following information:
“I would be grateful if you would send me a copy of the submission to the International Policing Assistance Brief (IPAB) regarding training of police officers in Saudi Arabia and the risk assessment that was undertaken.”Decision
When a request for information is made under the FoIA 2000 a public authority must inform you, when permitted, whether the information requested is held. It must then communicate that information to you. If a public authority decides that it cannot comply with all or part of a request, it must cite the appropriate section or exemption of the FoIA 2000 and provide you with an explanation.
It is important to note that a FoIA 2000 request is not a private transaction. Both the request itself and any information disclosed are considered suitable for open publication, that is, once access to information is granted to one person under the FoIA 2000, it is then considered public information and must be communicated to any individual should a request be received. Any information released under the FoIA 2000 will also be published on the College of Policing’s website at a later date.
After conducting careful searches for any information relevant to your request, I can confirm that there is information held. However, it is with the above in mind that the College of Policing has decided to refuse your request under the following exemptions:
- Section 27 (1) (a) (c) and (d) (international relations)
- Section 31 (1) (a) (law enforcement)
- Section 43 (2) (commercial interests)
Your attention is drawn to the refusal notice provided in Appendix A.
May I take this opportunity to thank you for your interest in the College of Policing. Details of your complaint rights are provided in Appendix B.
Neil Smith | Freedom of Information Caseworker
Ethics, Integrity and Public Interest Unit
College of Policing
Section 27 provides –
Section 27 (1) (a), (c) and (d) (international relations)
‘(1) Information is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice —
(a) relations between the United Kingdom and any other State,
(c) the interests of the United Kingdom abroad, or
(d) the promotion or protection by the United Kingdom of its interests abroad.’
The exemption under Section 27 (1) of the FoIA 2000 is both qualified and prejudice based. This requires me to determine the nature of the prejudice and/or harm that may result from disclosure of the information.
I must also conduct a public interest test to establish whether there is a public interest in disclosing or
withholding the requested information.
Prejudice and harm considerations
The case of Hogan v IC and Oxford City Council provides that the requisite prejudice must be real, actual or of substance. Furthermore, in the case of John Connor Press Associates Limited v The Information Commissioner, the Tribunal confirmed that, when determining whether prejudice would ‘be likely to occur’ the test to apply is that “the chance of prejudice being suffered should be more than a hypothetical possibility; there must have been a real and significant risk.”
The UK government works with many countries to secure the UK’s national security and economic well-being, often through government to government agreements. Many of these agreements include law enforcement training provision by the College, where the UK provides training to improve the capacity of foreign law enforcement agencies to tackle serious and organised crime and security threats internally.
The provision of this bespoke training and assistance increases the security of the relevant countries which in turn increases the security of the UK. The International Academy of the College works closely with a number of international partners such as the Department for International Development (DFID), the Stabilisation Unit (SU), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the UN and is regularly approached to provide support and assistance to these partners.
Any training of overseas law enforcement officers is coordinated by the College of Policing working in partnership with the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) - International Coordination Committee (ICC) and other stakeholders. The ICC oversees and coordinates the assistance that UK policing gives to other countries, both at home and abroad.
The College submits case by case international policing assistance proposals (or ‘IPABs’) to the DFID-SU to ensure multi–agency coordination and compliance with government policy. Feedback from DFID-SU and wider stakeholders, consideration of human rights and the College’s Code of Ethics inform the final decision made by the College to proceed or decline a request for international policing assistance.
HM Government publishes Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) guidance which can help the NPCC-ICC assess the human rights risks of UK overseas security and justice assistance work and identify measures to mitigate such risks. The College completes a full OSJA Human Rights profile for countries where human rights compliance is of concern and will seek sign off through the relevant High Commission or Embassy of that country. The guidance can be accessed at:
The information within the OSJA profiles and IPAB referrals are kept out of the public domain so as not to highlight the specific areas in which the College and the UK are co-operating with particular countries. This is not only essential for law enforcement purposes, but in order to maintain effective bilateral relations between the UK and our international partners and to ensure the protection and promotion of UK interests abroad. The disclosure of this information is likely to undermine these objectives and as such, there is a real and significant risk that is more than a hypothetical possibility.
Section 27 (1) of the FoIA 2000 recognises that the effective conduct of international relations depends upon maintaining mutual trust and confidence. If the College and in turn the UK, does not maintain this trust and confidence with states with which it engages, the ability of the College to protect and promote UK interests through international relations will be severely diminished. I consider that the disclosure of the information requested is likely to highlight specific areas in which we are cooperating with Saudi Arabia and given the high expectation of trust and confidence as regards the information, this is very likely to be seen as a breach of trust on the part of the College and in turn the UK.
In the case of Campaign Against the Arms Trade v Information Commissioner and Ministry of Defence, 3 it was submitted that the disclosure of details relating to the provision of assistance to Saudi Arabia would result in an adverse reaction from Saudi Arabia and this would mean that Saudi Arabia would be less likely to be willing to do business with the UK. The Tribunal in the case held that there could be prejudice to the interests of the UK abroad, or the promotion of those interests, if the consequence of disclosure was to expose those interests to the risk of an adverse reaction or make them vulnerable to such a reaction notwithstanding that the precise nature would not be predictable, either as a matter of probability or certainty. The prejudice would lie in the exposure and vulnerability to that risk. The Tribunal held prejudice can be ‘real and of substance’ ‘if it makes relations more difficult or calls for a particular damage limitation response to contain or limit damage which would not have otherwise have been necessary.’
In the present case, on the basis of evidence we have received, there is a very real risk of an adverse
reaction from Saudi Arabia if the information was to be disclosed and this in turn, is likely to have an adverse impact on our relationship with Saudi Arabia and our ability to conduct effective international relations. The consequences of disclosure of the requested information is therefore, to expose the UK to the risk of an adverse reaction from the government of Saudi Arabia and undermines the capacity building and stabilisation work carried out there and elsewhere. This in turn is likely to dissuade Saudi Arabia and other international states from working with, and seeking assistance from, the UK and the College in the future. This would have the very real effect of compromising the ability of the College and the UK to work with and influence international governments on key security issues.
Please find the public interest test considerations that I have identified and considered in relation to my application of section 27 (1) (a), (c) and (d) of the FoIA 2000 stated below.
Public interest considerations favouring disclosureThe disclosure of appropriate and relevant information would reinforce the College’s commitment to being an open and transparent organisation, serving to maintain public confidence in the College and the wider police service. Furthermore, the relationship of the UK and Saudi Arabia is currently of a high public interest and disclosure of the information will result in an increased public awareness of how the College conducts business with the country and its international partners and what risk assessments are made prior to undertaking work with countries abroad. This would include providing details of how the College takes account of human rights issues and the consideration to mitigate risk and harm.
Public interest considerations favouring non-disclosureThe disclosure of the information requested is very likely to prejudice and cause irreparable damage to the international relations between the College and Saudi Arabia as well as other international states with whom we engage. Disclosure of the requested information is very likely to be seen as a breach of the mutual trust and respect which is fundamental to the College’s international relations. Should this mutual trust and respect be diminished, this would compromise the ability of the College and in turn the UK, to promote and protect its interests abroad and in forming new and mutually beneficial relationships with international states.
EvaluationThe public interest test is not an evaluation of what interests the public but rather consideration of whether the community benefit of possession of the information outweighs the potential harm. On weighing up the competing interests, I find the public interest test favours withholding the requested information.
I acknowledge that complete transparency in response to how the College engages with international states informs public debate, provides reassurance and promotes confidence in the police service, as well as in the College as the professional body for policing. However, as highlighted above, there is a real and considerable risk that disclosure of the information requested would be regarded as a breach of mutual trust and respect by Saudi Arabia and this would very likely cause severe and lasting damage to the UK’s international interests.
I consider that the release of information that is highly likely to prejudice the interests of the UK abroad and undermine the ability of the UK to influence and work with Saudi Arabia on key international and security issues cannot be in the public interest. As such, I am unable to provide you with the information requested under section 27 (1) (a), (c) and (d) of the FoIA 2000.
Section 31 (1) (a) (law enforcement)Section 31 provides –
‘(1) Information which is not exempt information by virtue of section 30 is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice —
(a) the prevention or detection of crime’
The provision to refuse access to information under section 31 (1) (a) of the FoIA 2000 is both qualified and prejudice based. I am, therefore, required to establish the nature of the prejudice and/or harm that may result from disclosure and where prejudice and/or harm is established but not certain, determine the likelihood of it occurring. In addition, I must also conduct a public interest test to determine whether the public interest lies in disclosing or withholding the requested information.
Prejudice and harm considerationsAs stated above, any prejudice must be real, actual or of substance. The chance of prejudice being suffered should also be more than a hypothetical possibility with there being a real and significant risk.
Having reviewed your request, I consider that the disclosure of the information requested has the significant and weighty chance of highlighting the specific nature of how the College is cooperating with Saudi Arabia or how it intends to do so in the future. The disclosure of information regarding the type of assistance provided, or intended to be provided in specific countries has the very real risk of the unintended disclosure of law enforcement capabilities, or lack thereof, which may have an undesirable impact on law enforcement operations both in the UK and abroad. This in turn, creates a real and undeniable risk to the safety of the public and indeed law enforcement personnel in those countries with which we engage.
Please find the public interest test considerations that I have identified and considered in relation to my application of section 31 (1) (a) of the FoIA 2000 stated below.
Public interest considerations favouring disclosureThere is a clear public interest in making appropriate information available to the public in order to promote openness, transparency and to provide reassurance to the public, in particular, in terms of assurance as to the quality of training provided by the College both to UK officers as well as to international clients.
The increased public awareness of law enforcement capabilities and the way in which the police seek to bring law enforcement operations and incidents to a safe conclusion would promote a feeling of safety in the general public. In addition, the use of public money as well as the income generated by public bodies such as the College, is also a matter of strong public interest.
Public interest considerations favouring non-disclosure
I consider that disclosure of the requested information runs the risk of disclosing the law enforcement
capabilities, or the lack of such capabilities, of Saudi Arabia. In addition, the disclosure of the requested information has the likely potential to disclose law enforcement tactics which could jeopardise specific operations, both in that country and elsewhere.
The effect of disclosure has the likely effect of hindering the effective prevention and detection of crime and would compromise the ability to bring incidents and operations to a safe conclusion. Disclosure of information that undermines the operational integrity of law enforcement tactics and capabilities will adversely affect public safety and have a negative impact on law enforcement generally and this cannot be said to be in the public interest.
As stated above, the public interest test is a consideration of whether the community benefit of possession of the information outweighs the potential harm. It is not an evaluation of what interests the public. On weighing up the competing interests, I consider that the public interest test favours withholding the requested information.
I acknowledge that there is a clear public interest in transparency in relation to how the College conducts its business with international states and the decision making process, however, this must be weighed against the very real and considerable risk that disclosure of the information may bring, in particular with regards to disclosure of law enforcement capabilities, or lack thereof, as the case may be of Saudi Arabia, as well the risk of compromising specific operations which in turn jeopardises the safety of officers and the public at large.
I consider that the disclosure of the information is highly likely to provide assistance in undermining police capabilities and therefore compromise law enforcement operations which cannot be in the public interest. As such, I am unable to provide you with the information requested under section 31 (1) (a) of the FoIA 2000.
Section 43 (2) (commercial interests)
Section 43 (2) provides –
‘Information is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it).’
The provision to refuse access to information under Section 43 (2) of the FoIA 2000 is both qualified and prejudice based. As such, I am required to establish the nature of the prejudice and/or harm that may result from disclosure and I must conduct a public interest test to determine whether the public interest lies in disclosing or withholding the requested information.
Prejudice and harm considerationsDue to the fact that the information requested relates to the work that the College is undertaking, or
proposes to undertake, in Saudi Arabia, I consider that the disclosure of the requested information would have the likely risk of undermining the commercial position of the College with regard to negotiating agreements for the provision of expert training and assistance with Saudi Arabia and other international states in the future.
The disclosure of information into the public domain runs the real risk that our competitors would exploit the information and therefore expose the College to the risk and vulnerability of commercial loss. This in turn, would be likely to have an adverse impact on the ability of the College to reach agreement with countries in the future on the provision of training, and thereby have a detrimental impact on its ability to generate revenue, meaning it will remain reliant on public funds for a longer duration.
The College is actively working towards reducing its grant in aid from the government and in becoming an independent statutory body, which would be adversely impacted should our commercial position be jeopardised through the disclosure of the requested information. It is clearly in the public interest that the College reduce our reliance on grant in aid from the government since this would save public funds.
Public interest considerations favouring disclosureThere is a clear public interest in making appropriate information available to the public. The release of such information promotes transparency and provides reassurance to the public as to the training and assistance provided by the College to various international states. This in turn, serves to support and maintain public confidence in the law enforcement capabilities of these countries and help to foster a feeling of safety in the general public.
Public interest considerations favouring non-disclosureAs a disclosure under the FoIA 2000 is a disclosure to the world at large, it is not only the applicant who would have access to the information. Consequently, the disclosure of the requested information is very likely to compromise the commercial position of the College and result in the College’s international clients seeking training and assistance elsewhere, not least from the College’s competitors who may seek to use and exploit the information that is disclosed to undermine the College’s commercial position.
The ability of the College to generate its own income by provision of training and assistance is fundamental to the College’s objective of becoming a statutory body that is independent of government. This requires reducing the College’s dependence on grant-in-aid from the government, which can be said to be very much in the public interest.
EvaluationOn weighing up the competing interests I am of the opinion that the public interest test favours withholding the requested information. Whilst I acknowledge and accept the benefits of transparency and public confidence in the training and assistance provided by the College to various states, I am not of the view that they outweigh the potential negative impact on the College’s own commercial interests. There is a very real public interest in protecting the College’s ability to generate income so as to allow the College to become less reliant on government funding and disclosure of the information requested would undermine this objective significantly. As such, I am unable to provide you with the information requested under section 43 (2) of the FoIA 2000.
Section 23 (5) (information supplied by, or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters) and Section 24 (2) (national security)
The College of Policing can neither confirm nor deny whether the above information represents all the information held that would meet the terms of your request, as the duty to comply with section 1 (1) (a) of the FoIA 2000 does not apply by virtue of section 23 (5) and section 24 (2). Please see my submissions in this regard below.
Section 23 provides:
(5) The duty to confirm or deny does not arise if, or to the extent that, compliance with section 1 (1) (a) would involve the disclosure of any information (whether or not already recorded) which was directly or indirectly supplied to the public authority by, or relates to, any of the bodies specified in subsection (3).
This is an absolute exemption and I am therefore not required to complete a public interest test.
Section 24 (2) is a qualified exemption and as such there is a requirement to evidence any harm confirmation or denial that any other information is held as well as considering the public interest. Please see my submissions in this regard below.