Commissioner loses commercial interests appeal

A news agency reporter, Matthew Davis, director of Sussex-based John Connor Press Associates has won his appeal against the UK Information Commissioner after representing himself in a hearing at the Information Tribunal. This finding could now force public authorities to reveal how much they spend on artwork.

Mr Davis submitted his request in January 2005 to find out how much the National Maritime Museum had paid for an art installation called Continuum, a huge "wooden, spring-like structure" by Conrad Shawcross. The Museum refused to provide the information but during the course of the investigation it was revealed that the Museum had paid £13,000 for the artwork.

The Information Tribunal concluded that the National Maritime Museum (and therefore the Information Commissioner) had been wrong to argue that there was sufficient risk of prejudice to the commercial interests of both the Museum and Mr Shawcross under section 43(2) of the UK FOI Act. The museum had originally argued that it should not disclose financial information since this would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of both parties and that it would not be in the public interest to release the information at that time. It therefore removed all financial information from the information that was given to Mr Davis.

Mr Davis hopes the ruling will speed up his other FoI appeals, which include the amount paid by the National Portrait Gallery for a video by Sam Taylor-Wood of David Beckham sleeping and a rumoured £300,000 pay-off for the outgoing chief executive of East Sussex NHS Trust. Mr Davis said, "The Information Commissioner is taking so long to reach any decisions it's making a mockery of the act. I think the Information Commissioner has been taken by surprise at the complexity of some of the questions that have been asked. At the moment I don't think the Information Commissioner in England has been up to the job and that's why there is such a massive backlog."

Reporter's FoI victory puts spotlight on art spending (Press Gazette, 2 February 2006)

John Connor Press Associates Limited v The Information Commissioner (Information Tribunal website, 25 January 2006) (74KB PDF)