Electoral Commission response to FOI question about the scope of their review into Plymouth Lib Dem accounts for 2007-2008

14 Sep

—————————- Original Message —————————-
Subject: FOI 10/10 – response
From: “Michelanne Wilson” <MWilson @electoralcommission.org.uk>
Date: Mon, July 19, 2010 3:23 pm

Our Ref: FOI 10/10

Thank you for your request for information under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 (FOI Act), dated 3 February 2010.

We apologise for the delay in responding to your request.

Please see your request in bold below followed by our response.

1) A full scanned copy of the Electoral Commission’s findings of the case
review conducted into the City of Plymouth Liberal Democrats for the
period of 2007 to 2008.

You have requested copies of the Commission’s findings of the case review
into the City of Plymouth Liberal Democrats. The Commission does hold this
information however we consider it to be exempt under the sections 30 31
and 40 of the FOI Act for the reasons mentioned below.

Section 30 and 31

Under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA)
the Commission has a statutory function to conduct inquiries and
investigations into potential breaches of party and election funding

Section 30(1)(a) of the Act provides for exemption from disclosure
information which has been held at any time by a public authority for the
purpose of any investigation which the authority has a duty to conduct
with a view to it being ascertained whether a person should be charged
with an offence. The section 30 exemption applies to information held at
any time, whether or not the investigation is ongoing.

It is the case that the information you request is held for the purposes
of this function. The information the Commission holds relates to a case
review which was conducted by the Commission to determine whether there
was a potential breach of PPERA relating to late submission of statement
of accounts by City of Plymouth Liberal Democrats

Additionally, section 31 (1)(g) exempts from disclosure information that
would or would be likely to prejudice the exercise of the Commission’s
functions under PPERA for the purposes of ascertaining whether any person
has failed to comply with the law, as provided by section 31 (2)(a) of the
Act. Section 31 applies only to the extent that the information is not
exempt under section 30.

The Commission considers that disclosure of the details of the inquiry and
the Commission’s findings would prejudice the exercise of the Commission’s
statutory functions and its ability to conduct inquiries such as in this

Application of sections 30 and 31 exemptions are both subject to the
public interest test. The Commission has a statutory duty to monitor
compliance with the provisions of PPERA when conducting inquiries of this
type. The public interest lies in enabling the Commission to conduct
appropriate inquiries so that it can make regulatory decisions based on a
firm factual basis.

The Commission aims to be robust and fair in its regulatory decisions and
we acknowledge that there is a legitimate public interest in carrying out
investigations in an open and transparent way, while ensuring proper
regulation of party political funding; however, there are a number of
factors that must be considered and weighed in the balance.

In carrying out effective inquiries the Commission depends on being able
to secure the co-operation of those individuals which whom we seek
information. If information provided in the course of our investigation
was made public under FOI, it would make those individuals reluctant to
co-operate. Release of this information would also be unfair to those
individuals or parties where no prosecution or civil action is to take

Furthermore disclosure of information would severely affect the
Commission’s ability to conduct the inquiries like this in the future.
Individuals who are asked questions by the Commission may fear that
information that they do provide could be made available in the public
domain and may make them less likely to co-operate in future inquiries.

Having carefully weighed the public interest relating to possible
disclosure of the information requested, we are satisfied that it is not
appropriate at this time to disclose the information which the Commission
holds. The Commission is satisfied that maintaining exemptions Section
30(1) (a) and section 31(1) (g) outweighs the public interest in

For your information please see a copy of the Commission’s disclosure
policy on enforcement work which can be located on our website at:


Section 40(2)

In withholding from disclosure the full scope and findings of the case
review, the Commission primarily relies on the exemptions section
30(1)(a)(i) and 31(1)(g). It should also be noted that some of this
information equally falls within section 40(2). If this information were
not already subject to exemptions mentioned previously, the Commission
would apply section 40(2) considering the DPA principles of fairness in
relation to personal data.

Section 40 (2) provides for an exemption where the information requested
constitutes personal data as defined by the Data Protection Act 1998
(DPA), and where release of the information requested would breach one of
the data protection principles. Some of the information contained in the
full scope and findings of the case review, falls within the description
of personal data as defined by section 1 of the DPA because the
information relates directly to an identifiable living individual.
The information contained in the case review files, relates to individuals
connected with the City of Plymouth Liberal Democrats and is ‘personal
data’ under section 40 (2). Disclosure of this information would
contravene the first principle of the DPA.
The first data protection principle states that personal data shall be
processed fairly and lawfully. The Commission considers that it would be
unfair to release the information requested as it would be reasonably
expected by those individuals that details of the evidence they gave,
their personal details, any home addresses and similar personal data would
not be disclosed to the general public including in connection with this
investigation. This would also affect our ability to obtain information
from them in the future in relation to other investigations, if required.

Therefore, in addition with sections 30 and 31 exemptions as mentioned
above, the Commission is not satisfied that it would be lawful or fair to
provide you with the personal data contained in the case review file over
and above that referred to in response to Q3 below.

2) Full copies of the scope of the review. i.e what issues were raised to
you that caused the Commission to investigate /review and what issues the
Commission specifically investigated/reviewed.

3) Also which party officers were informed of the outcome of that review

In response to your questions 2 and 3, the Commission does hold this
information. The review looked into the financial practice of the
accounting unit, City of Plymouth Liberal Democrats, as a whole and not
the actions of any one individual, for the period of January 2007 to
December 2008.

It is a requirement under section 27(3) of PPERA for a registered
political party with accounting units to notify the Commission by
registering the treasurer of the unit who shall be responsible for
compliance with PPERA.

During the period of the case review, there were two people who were
registered with the Commission as the treasurer of the City of Plymouth
Liberal Democrats at separate times. These were Richard Bray and Richard
Lawrie. This information would have been publically available on our
website at the relevant times.

A number of people were also involved in the financial management of the
unit during the period covered by the review. The post of registered
treasurer is a specific role and involves registration of details with the
Electoral Commission. It carries particular obligations and liabilities,
including the potential liability for civil breaches and criminal offences
in respect of PPERA. We have treated your request as a request for those
who held the post of registered treasurer. Whilst others were involved in
financial management in respect of the unit we consider this to be
distinct from holding the “post of treasurer”. Additionally, it was not
within the scope of the issues determined by the Commission as to who was
acting as treasurer at various times during the period under
consideration. As such we do not consider that any others than those
named held the post of registered treasurer during that time, nor do we
hold any conclusions as to who may have acted as treasurer.. So far as we
hold information relating to the financial management of the unit and the
involvement of others who were not registered as treasurer we rely upon
the exemptions set out above, for the reasons set out above.

The review concluded that while the City of Plymouth Liberal Democrats
failed to notify the Commission of the change in registered treasurer and
that proper financial records were not kept for the period between January
2007 and December 2008. No further action was taken as these failures
identified did not give rise to an offence under PPERA.

The Commission informed Mr Lawrie of the outcome of the review in his
capacity as registered treasurer at the time of the closure of the case,
as well as others connected with the party – Mike Gillbard, Stephen
Goldthorpe and Karen Gillard. We have taken your term “party officers” to
cover this rather than being confined to registered officers or officers
formally appointed by the party or the accounting unit. The Commission
also informed Steve Barton who was the Chair of City of Plymouth Liberal
Democrats at the time of the review and also the Liberal Democrat
Compliance Officer, David Allworthy.

I trust that this information satisfies your request. If you are not
satisfied with this response, please note that the Commission operates a
review procedure, details of which can be found on the Commission website

Please also note that if you have exhausted all internal Commission review
procedures and you are still not satisfied you have the right to appeal to
the Information Commissioner. Details of this procedure can be found on
the ICO website: http://www.ico.gov.uk.

Yours sincerely,

Michelanne Calhoun Wilson
Legal Officer
Tel: 020 7271 0625
Fax: 020 7271 0505
MWilson @electoralcommission.org.uk

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