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  • Pay Off Principal set by Tribunal

    Posted on March 9th, 2009 admin No comments


    How much?

    How much?

    The Information Tribunal ruled in favour of maintaining the Section 40 exemption in relation to internal documents surrounding the acrimonious departure of a college principal, who left his job after two months with a £163,000 pay off.

    The Yorkshire Post brought the appeal to the Tribunal after the Information Commissioner had ruled against the newspaper, save for the fact that the College were ordered to disclose the amount of compensation paid to the former principal David Gates.

    A hearing was then staged in Bradford to determine if the 383-pages of documents relating to hearings staged prior to Mr Gates’ dismissal from the College should be disclosed to the paper. The Information Commissioner’s had ruled the material held by the College was subject to the Section 40 exemption.

    The paper argued the Commissioner’s decision to apply Section 40 had been wrong because it placed “too great an influence on protecting the rights of the highly paid individual who has been sacked as opposed to the rights of the public who have funded his position and placed great trust in him as a senior employee at the town’s largest educational establishment”.

    Mr Gates took up his position as the principal of the college in January 2006 and was suspended by the start of the autumn term. He eventually reached a confidential settlement with the College who issued a statement in which it said: “The reasons for the principal’s dismissal relate to his conduct and performance of his responsibilities, particularly in respect of his behaviour and relationships with senior individuals connected with the College and its Corporation.” None of the matters relating to his dismissal were of a criminal nature.

    A subsequent OFSTED report was critical of the College’s governing body for an inappropriate use of public funds in paying compensation to senior staff.

    The information at the centre of the argument was summarised as being details of the allegations made against Mr Gates and the details of disciplinary proceedings which followed from those allegations. There were also the compromise and termination agreements which contained the details of the financial package offered to Mr Gates.

    The paper put forward a number of arguments for the release of this information. These included the fact that an Employment Tribunal was anticipated which would put all parties on notice that there was the potential for the information to become public through that hearing.

    But the Tribunal ruled in favour of the Information Commissioner in that the information should be subject to a Section 40 exemption.

    In its ruling it stated: “There is a recognised expectation that the internal disciplinary matters of an individual will be in private. Even among senior members of staff there would still be a high expectation of privacy between an employee and his employer in respect of disciplinary matters.”

    When the Tribunal went on to consider the confidential compromise agreement it stated: “Even in the public sector compromise agreements may be expected to be accorded a degree of privacy as long as there is no evidence of wrongdoing or criminal activity present. There is no such evidence in this case.”

    Editor’s note: This decision is important as the strength of the Section 40 exemption has typically been seen to diminish the further up the corporate ladder the person who the information relates to. In this case the most senior person in the town’s biggest college is still seen to be protected by the exemption despite the fact a total of £300,000 was paid out by the college on his compensation, wages and legal costs – for just two terms of employment. The financial details of his severance package were deemed to be releasable but the internal documents on why he was fired stay private. Had he been sacked because of a criminal matter it is possible the decision would not have been the same, however, other exemptions would then probably come into play.

    Read the decision notice HERE

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