Information Review Tribunal Registrar Mrs. R. Worth has ordered me to explain why I should be allowed to appeal a denial of the Information Commissioner since I do not live in the United Kingdom. I had complained to Commissioner Elizabeth Denham about the secrecy imposed by the University of London over the identity of two 1984 PhD thesis examiners. Republic of China in-exile President Tsai Ing-wen submitted her tardy PhD thesis in 2019, thirty-five years late, triggering allegations of academic fraud. I wondered who approved the thesis?
Tsai’s thesis entitled “Unfair Trade Practices and Safeguard Actions” has been at the center of a year-long struggle to learn why the thesis was never filed until 2019 in the London School of Economics library where Tsai studied. The thesis was also not in the collection of the University of London library where Tsai’s PhD degree was awarded.
My September 2019 request for the two names, and date of approval, to the London School of Economics hit a brick wall and I was sent to the University of London. After six weeks of internal review the University of London decided that to disclose the names of the two examiners might cause “distress” to Tsai or even possibly the unknown examiners if they were still alive. On the thesis absence from the University of London library the school is now maintaining it was lost sometime between 1984 and 2010 during library “restructuring.”
This year the matter reached the Information Commissioner’s Office, tasked with enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act. The ICO bought the theory that President Tsai might suffer distress if the examiners were named and denied my request. The ICO also accepted the speculation that University of London librarians lost the thesis sometime during a twenty-five year period as an adequate explanation for the missing document. The ICO overlooked the empty library shelves at the London School of Economics and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies where the thesis was also missing.
The Information Review Tribunal was the next stop on the journey to truth. Now suddenly a new obstacle to learning the examiners’ names emerged, I am not a United Kingdom resident. I am a qualified resident of Belize, a member of the British Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth’s picture is on the Belize currency that I use but that is apparently not good enough for Registrar Worth who is concerned over my location outside of the United Kingdom and my lack of connection to the country.
Worth’s case management order states, “If he was outside the UK, whether the Information Commissioner’s Office knew that her investigation was for a person who had been outside of the UK on the date of request to public authority and on the date of request.”
I have been given three questions that Worth wants answered.
“Was Mr Richardson, whilst in Belize, entitled to request information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000?”
“Was Mr Richardson, whilst in Belize, entitled to apply for a decision under section 50 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000?”
“If he was not entitled to those rights, what impact does that have on this appeal?”
To her credit, Commissioner Denham at the ICO holds a more open view of the Freedom of Information Act. An ICO guidance states, “Anyone can make a freedom of information request – they do not have to be UK citizens, or resident in the UK.”
A media download on the ICO website reinforces the public right to information. “Anyone can make a request for information, regardless of who they are or where they live.”
Worth’s questions run afoul of a prior Information Review Tribunal decision where the Tribunal said the public body should be “applicant and motive blind.” Further, “In dealing with a Freedom of Information request there is no provision for the public authority to look at from whom the application has come, the merits of the application or the purpose for which it is to be used.”
If Registrar Worth takes time to examine the Freedom of Information Act she will find that there is not one clause, not one sentence, not one word that bars me from asking the question and pursuing the answer, who were President Tsai Ing-wen’s thesis examiners?