The Public Interest Test

A request for information under the Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law, 2011 may require the scheduled public authority (SPA) to carry out a public interest test.

It’s important the SPA knows when to apply it and what factors should be taken into account – and weigh those factors up appropriately to decide whether or not it’s appropriate to disclose information.

Exemptions can be either ‘absolute’ or ‘qualified’:

• If an absolute exemption applies, the information doesn’t have to be released to the applicant.
• If a qualified exempt applies, the SPA must weigh up the public interest when deciding to maintain the exemption or disclose the information. This is what is meant by “the public interest test”.

In carrying out a public interest test the SPA should consider:

• The circumstances at the time of the request or within the normal time for compliance.
• Public interest arguments for the exemption must relate specifically to that exemption.
• The balance of public interest in the circumstances of the request.
• Any public interests that would be served by disclosing the information.
• The relative weight of the arguments for and against disclosure. This can be affected by prejudice; the age of the information; how far the requested information will help public understanding; and whether similar information is already in the public domain.

Where a qualified exemption applies and the SPA doesn’t wish to confirm nor deny that it holds the requested information, the decision to give a ‘neither confirm nor deny’ response is itself subject to the public interest test.

N.B. The principle behind the Law is to release information unless there’s a good reason not to. Public interest means the public good – not what’s of interest to the public, and not the private interests of the requester.

You can read more detail about the public interest test in our guide. It will help you to fully understand your obligations, maintain consistency and promote good practice