Grounds on which Information can be Denied

Can information be denied under this Act?

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YES. A request for information under this Act can sometimes be denied.  However, the burden will be on the public authority to prove the information cannot be disclosed in the public interest.

What are the grounds on which information could be denied?

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The Act lists the grounds on which information can be denied.

(a) Personal information which unnecessarily invades the privacy of a private person;

(But, if you could prove that the requested information serves a public interest or the private person to whom the information relates gives his permission in writing, such information could be accessed).

(b) Information which, if disclosed, would pose a threat to the defense of the country, its territorial integrity, or national security; or would be harmful to Sri Lanka’s relations with any other country; or if the information requested was collected on a confidential basis and for the purpose of an international agreement or commitment which Sri Lanka has undertaken;

(c) Information which, if disclosed prematurely, would be extremely harmful to the economy of the country, such as foreign currency exchange, credit activities, tax matters, control of prices for goods and services, and trade agreements Sri Lanka is in the process of entering into.

(d) The information is related to commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, under the Intellectual Property Act No. 36 of 2003, and disclosing such information would harm the competitive position of a third party. (However, the Public Authority could disclose the information if the Public Authority is satisfied that the public interest will be served by revealing such information);

Example:- ‘Z’ requests from the Central Bank information on foreign currency exchange rates for the next few days. Prematurely disclosing this information would be detrimental to the exchange generated revenue of the country. Therefore, this information could be denied to ‘Z’.

(e) The information relates to the medical condition of any person, unless the person to whom the information relates has given his/her permission in writing to disclose the information;

(f) Information exchanged between a professional and a Public Authority to which the professional provides services. This information can be denied when the law prohibits such disclosure. This includes correspondence between the Attorney General or any officer assisting the Attorney General in his/her work and a Public Authority;

(g) Information given in the course of a fiduciary relationship

An example of a fiduciary relationship is:-
(i). ‘M’, a client, discloses his financial situation to his lawyer appointed by the Legal Aid Commission. This information cannot be revealed as the relationship between the lawyer and ‘M’ is a fiduciary relationship.
(ii). ‘K’ suffers from an illness and is treated by Doctor ‘H’ who has information on K’s health. The information on K’s health will be denied as the relationship between H and K is a fiduciary relationship.

(h) Disclosing information would harm the investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders, or expose an informant who assists the police or military anonymously;

(i) The information has been supplied to the relevant Public Authority by a third party in confidence and the third party does not consent to the information being disclosed except when the public interest outweighs the relevant private interest;

(j) Disclosing information would be in contempt of court or it would harm the impartiality of the judiciary;

(k) Disclosing information would infringe on the privileges of Parliament or a provincial council;

(l) Disclosing information would harm public confidence in an examination being conducted by the Department of Examinations or a Higher Educational Institution;

(m) The information relates to a cabinet paper which has not yet been decided on by cabinet; or

(n) The information relates to an election conducted by the Commissioner of Elections which is legally required to be kept confidential.

Can a RTI request for information that is denied be allowed after a time period?

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YES. A Public Authority cannot deny allowing access to any information if the information is over ten (10) years old other than the information referred to in (a), (b), (d), (e), (f), (g), (h) and (j).

Most importantly, any information which would ordinarily be denied has to be disclosed if you could prove an overriding public benefit and that such public benefit is greater than any harmful effect which could result from disclosing the information.

However, even if 10 years have passed, a Public Authority cannot disclose information of an overseas trade agreement if the negotiations for the agreement have not been concluded.

Could you access other parts of records which contain inaccessible information?

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If the record or document contains other information apart from information that could legitimately be denied, you can request to access the remaining information. Authorities cannot deny you access to the accessible portion of the information.