Appeal costs revealed

Scottish Borders Council has so far spent £18,500 on solicitors to fight its £250,000 data fine appeal, with more hearings due to take place.

A two-day hearing was held in March, but was adjourned to hear expert evidence. The tribunal sits again in mid-July.

It has also emerged that no written record exists of the decision to lodge the appeal against the Information Commissioner’s Office fine.

The facts have been revealed through a Freedom of Information request made by Ben Jones.

He asked the council for information on the cost of the appeal, if an amount had been budgeted for it, and the reasons for appealing.

In response, council data compliance officer Doreen Broom said: “The legal costs at this point in time are one invoice for £15,000, plus VAT, together with an invoice previously paid which amounted to £3,500.”

She added: “The council does not hold recorded information on the rationale for appealing the MPN (Monetary Penalty Notice) as this was based on a verbal discussion and this is therefore exempt under Section 17 of FOISA.”

After repeating his request for information on whether there was a budgeted cost and for any notes on a discussion regarding the appeal, with no success, Mr Jones requested an internal review be carried out into the handling of his request.

Mr Jones said: “I find it difficult to accept that legal advice on the nature of a £250,000 fine was sought and received entirely by a telephone call, with no exchange of supporting documents and no note made of the advice given, or indeed no further written dissemination of the advice and the council’s decision.”

A council spokesman told TheSouthern: “A full assessment was drawn up by our lawyers looking at the merits of appealing.

“While there was no formal committee report, council officers made a recommendation to appeal, which was discussed and agreed by the council’s political leaders.”

He added that external solicitors were needed as it was a “specialist area of law”.

The council paid the fine early, meaning it only had to pay out £200,000.

It was imposed after more than 800 files containing bank and salary details had been dumped by a contractor in a supermarket recycling bank in West Lothian.