On Monday 11th October, 2021, Raja Miah, from Mossley, Tameside will appear, remotely, before leading information rights judge, Stephen Cragg QC, and two lay Panel members at a General Regulatory Chamber, First Tier Tribunal hearing.
The disgraced political activist, currently on police bail over suspicions of racially aggravated public order and malicious communications offences, is appealing against a Decision Notice issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on 15th April, 2021.
Miah had complained to the ICO following a refusal by Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council to make any disclosure at all after he had submitted six lengthy, rambling items of correspondence (each containing multiple information requests).
The subject matters will be familiar to those adjacent to Miah’s regular conspiracy theories, including an alleged child sexual exploitation ‘cover-up’ by police and the Council in exchange for Asian block votes; officers’ registers of interest, an alleged sale of public land to a prominent Oldham family that never happened; and alleged irregularities in General Election voting and counting.
Oldham Council relied on section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2000 (‘the Act’), a procedural exemption relating to repeat and vexatious requests, to deny access to the disclosure sought by Miah.
He subsequently contacted the ICO to complain about the way his requests for information had been handled, and specifically that the Council was not entitled to apply section 14(1).
The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, considered the scope of the case, as the information rights regulator, to be limited to whether the Council is entitled to apply that exemption when refusing the information requests. The other ancillary matters that the complainant had sought to raise did not fall for determination by her.
Reasons the Information Commissioner gave for her Decision:
Section 14(1) of the FOIA states that: Section 1(1) of the Act does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the request is vexatious (read the relevant part of the Act here).
The Commissioner has well established Guidance on vexatious requests. As discussed in that document (read in full here), the relevant consideration is whether the request itself is vexatious, rather than the individual submitting it. Sometimes, it will be obvious when requests are vexatious, but on other occasions it may not be so.
In such cases, it should be considered whether the request would be likely to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation, or distress to the public authority. This negative impact must then be considered against the purpose and public value of the request. A public authority can also consider the context of the request and the history of its relationship with the requestor, when this is relevant.
– Raja Miah’s submissions to the ICO-
The Commissioner was informed that he considers his requests to seek information in the public interest, and that this is particularly so in relation to those requests relating to child sexual exploitation, to which he considers the Council has attempted to subdue or hide related information.
He also articulated concerns that he has been subject to false claims by the Council, and that other members of the public have likewise been subject to false claims. He also alleges that the Council has contacted the employers of those members of the public, to discredit them and adversely affect their employment.
– The Council’s submissions to the ICO –
They consider that the Miah requests represent an ongoing pattern whereby requests are made to raise the profile of his various allegations of bias and corruption against council officers and councillors. These allegations have been contained in correspondence with the Council, and publicly on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Patreon, and on his own Recusant Nine and Medium websites.
The Council further considers that, on these platforms, Raja Miah has evidenced an ongoing grudge against the Labour Party, councillors, and the trustees of Oldham Central Mosque.
The Council referred the Commissioner to previous requests made by Miah on whatdotheyknow.com, and specifically those made on 18th May 2019 (twice), 5th July 2019, and the subsequent generation of further requests and correspondence following the Council providing responses under FOIA.
The Council considers that compliance with the later requests, presently refused under section 14, would generate further such requests and correspondence from him.
The Council has also referred the Commissioner to specific actions (including a Greater Manchester commissioned ‘Independent Review’) that it has taken in response to historic failings by the Council in respect of safeguarding duties and child sexual exploitation. The Council explained that whilst the Independent Review has attempted to engage with Raja Miah in respect of specific allegations that he has made (and evidence that he claims to hold), it has struggled to gain engagement.
The Council asserts that it is committed to supporting the Independent Review, and that this was a factor in its decision to not apply section 14(1) at an earlier stage to the requests as they were being submitted.
All of Raja Miah’s requests on What Do They Know can be referenced here. Since the vexatious finding last year he now appears to use a number of proxies and/or aliases to circumvent that ruling.
– The Commissioner’s analysis of the competing submissions –
Firstly, the Commissioner highlighted that there are many different reasons why a request may be vexatious, as reflected in her Guidance. There are no prescriptive ‘rules’, although there are generally typical characteristics and circumstances that assist in making a judgement about whether a request is vexatious.
A request does not necessarily have to be about the same issue as previous correspondence to be classed as vexatious, but equally, the request may be connected to others by a broad or narrow theme that relates them. A commonly identified feature of vexatious requests is that they can emanate from some sense of grievance or alleged wrong-doing on the part of the authority.
The Guidance emphasises that proportionality is the key consideration for a public authority when deciding whether to refuse a request as vexatious. They must essentially consider whether the value of a request outweighs the impact that the request would have on their resources in responding to it. Aspects that can be considered in relation to this include the purpose and value of the information requested, and the burden upon the public authority’s resources.
(i) The purpose and value of the requests
The Commissioner reviewed the six items of correspondence submitted by Raja Miah in the context of both his and Council’s submissions and recognises that the requests seek information (or answers) relating to a variety of concerns relating to either the Council, or specific individuals whom are directly named – and against whom he appears to make allegations within the purported access requests.
She recognised that these concerns are likely to relate to matters of public interest, and that it is important that such matters are subject to appropriate transparency by public authorities.
However, the Commissioner also recognises that, in this Miah complaint, the phrasing and content of the requests are likely to cause significant difficulties for the Council to issue responses under the terms of FOIA. For example, a significant amount of the individual requests do not clearly seek recorded information that may be held by the Council, but rather, ask the Council to provide statements that confirm either the complainant’s understanding of a subject, or whether a certain event has occurred.
She considered that by requesting statements in response to highly specific questions, a significant amount of the requests do not clearly request recorded information.
It was also reasonable for her to consider that the complainant is likely to have a range of appropriate avenues by which he can raise his concerns. Such avenues may include the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, the police, or the Courts.
(ii) The burden upon the Council
The Commissioner recognised that compliance with any information request will, as a matter of course, require an authority to expend resources, and there is an inherent public interest that an authority does so to facilitate access to official information under the terms of FOIA.
However, in this particular case, she considered that the requests would require substantial engagement by the Council to fulfil. This is because a significant amount of the requests do not, in the her view, represent clear requests for recorded information, but rather ask the Council to provide statements. To consider whether responses to such requests could be made under the terms of FOIA, the Commissioner considers it likely that the Council would need to provide extensive advice and assistance to Raja Miah (under the duty imposed by section 16 of FOIA) to clarify what, if any, recorded information is sought.
In conjunction with the above, she also considered that the provision of responses under FOIA would be highly likely to generate further requests and related correspondence, which would, of necessity, require further public resources to be expended.
She also recognised that multiple requests were submitted in a single day (with three of the items of correspondence being sent to the Council on 17th December 2019). It is reasonable for her to interpret this action as having been taken to knowingly place a burden upon the Council.
In the circumstances of this case, the Commissioner understands that the requests have been made in relation to a range of concerns held by Raja Miah, and she acknowledged that it is important that the actions of public authorities are subject to appropriate transparency and openness.
However, the evidence available to her indicated that he is failing to use the rights provided by FOIA responsibly. The phrasing and content of the correspondence suggests that the intent of the requests is not simply to seek access to official information, but to raise and pursue various allegations in a public manner.
The Commissioner emphasised that the purpose of FOIA is to provide a public access regime to official information; should a requestor hold concerns about the actions undertaken by a public authority, this should be escalated through the proper processes; for example, the authority’s complaints process or an appropriate review body.
Having considered the purpose and value of the Miah requests, she is also not satisfied that the burden placed upon the Council – in attempting to comply with its duties under the FOIA – would be justified.
Censure for Oldham Council
Lastly, in her Decision Notice, the Information Commissioner found that the Council had handled the requests poorly; only providing a substantive response in July, 2020, following the ICO requesting it do so. However, having considered the context of the requests, she did not consider that this significantly lessens the case for the Council’s application of section 14(1).
Prospects of the requestor’s appeal succeeding
The remit of an information rights tribunal is governed by section 58 of FOIA. This requires the tribunal to consider whether the decision made by the Commissioner is in accordance with the law or, where the Commissioner’s decision involved exercising discretion, whether she should have exercised it differently. The Tribunal may receive
evidence that was not before the Commissioner, and may make different findings
of fact from the Commissioner.
This is the text of a post that was made on the frequently banned Recusant Nine Facebook page, by Raja Miah on Friday 8th October, 2021. It does not bode well for his prospects in what is a process very largely determined on case law applied to the specific findings of fact by the Information Commissioner in her Decision Notice:
“On Monday morning, I have a tribunal hearing where I am challenging the ICO. Unfortunately, this limp organisation has repeatedly failed to take action against Oldham Council despite many of you complaining to them following your own FOI requests and/or the handling of your personal data by the Council.
“The ICO agreed with the Council’s refusal to deny my FOI requests. The Council claimed that my requests were vexatious and malicious. They claimed malice on the basis of what I would do with the information!
“Unfortunately for the ICO, my witnesses include individuals who have had similar responses answered by OMBC. The evidence I have collated also clearly demonstrates that I am being clearly discriminated against.
“When coming to their initial decision, the ICO, ignoring the ridiculous reasons for refusal submitted by OMBC (as if you can refuse a request because of what the person will do with the information) and hypothesised reasons of their own to support the Council. The Council then took this, and decided that it meant that they do not have to answer any of my questions, including refusing my Subject Access Request for my own data. This is unlawful.
“Far too often, the people of my town, not having the time, patience or expertise, find themselves the victim of being abused by those in power. On Monday, it is not just myself in Court, it is every one of us.
“Ordinarily, you would be allowed to attend and pack out the public gallery. Unfortunately, with Covid, all such hearings are virtual. If you would like to attend virtually on Monday morning at around 10am, please message me your full name and email and I will send it over to the Court. I need responses by 1pm”.
There is nothing in that labyrynthine ramble, through the familiar, and alternating, victim and saviour complexes that Miah so frequently nurtures, to remotely suggest that he understands the task that is facing him. That is to say: The burden is on him, as appellant, to disturb the Decision Notice of the Information Commissioner. He has to prove it was either wrong in law, or the fact-finding was wrong-headed.
Raja Miah’s Facebook post appears to be focused on matters that do not form any part of the Decision – and what has happened to other requests, or requestors, is not a matter for the Panel hearing his own appeal.
His default position of lying in almost every single Recusant Nine post simply clouds the issue further. Not least his propensity to claim affinity with, or represent the interests of a town in which he has not lived since 2004.
Neither the Information Commissioner nor Oldham Council will be represented at the hearing. Usually a strong indicator that the Miah appeal, in their view, as filed and served in paper form, has little or no merit.
Vexatious by conduct – applicable case law
A recent and well used information rights appeal that considered section 14 principles, was the case of Oxford Phoenix Innovation Ltd v Information Commissioner & Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency  UKUT 192 (AAC).
It is remarkably similar to the Raja Miah v Oldham Council and Information Commissioner case. It would be very surprising indeed if the latter two had not made the appellant aware of that leading authority.
The requestor in that case was an inventor of a medical device called the ‘Whizz Midstream’. He had been in protracted discussions with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in relation to issues around competitors’ products and regulatory compliance. He believed that there had been a conspiracy to send him out of business. Having made a number of FOIA requests to which the MHRA provided a response, three further requests were refused under section 14 (1) of the Act. The ICO upheld the MHRA’s refusals to disclose information and, in turn, the First Tier Tribunal similarly found the requests to be vexatious.
The Upper Tier Tribunal (UTT) accepted that analytical focus of both the public authority and the regulator should be on whether a request itself is vexatious, rather than on the requestor, but found that the First Tier Tribunal had been correct to take into account the history of dealings between the requestor and the MHRA – and the fact that the requestor felt that the MHRA had been “at war” with him. The UTT concluded at paragraph 87 of their judgment that:
“The fact that there had once been a genuine dispute does not stop a request becoming “vexatious by drift” (referring to the well known UTT case of Dransfield). That is what the FTT decided here. In the FTT’s assessment, Mr Levinson was using FOIA as a means of “carrying on the war by any other means”. The tribunal clearly meant that any proper purpose to the request had been overshadowed and extinguished by his improper pursuit of the “war” with MHRA, and that was why it concluded that the MHRA was entitled to say “Enough is enough”.”
UPDATE: Surprisingly, Raja Miah succeeded in his appeal against the Information Commissioner in a short, remote video hearing before Judge Cragg QC, who said:
“The Council was wrong to apply section 14. The requests are not vexatious. The Panel will remit them back to the Council for response to those requests.
“The ICO may appeal. It is a matter for them to consider”
“We expect to give our written reasons within a week or so”.
Before the hearing, Miah whose strapline on every post on Facebook, or broadcast on YouTube, is “Do not Fear Them. Do Not Fear Any of Them” tried to have this journalist removed from the proceedings, saying he felt “apprehensive and intimidated”.
He was, unsurprisingly, overruled by Judge Cragg QC, who explained to Miah that in this country open justice must prevail. Parties to court proceedings do not get to pick and choose who is in the public gallery or press seats.
The press offices of both the Information Commissioner and Oldham Council were approached for a statement following the outcome of today’s hearing. The latter responded via a spokesperson who said they would reserve any comment, if one was made at all, until after seeing the Tribunal judgment. The ICO’s spokesperson responded on similar lines: “The Commissioner will await sight of the Tribunal’s written judgment and review the same.”
Raja Miah in a private broadcast made to his subscribers shortly after the hearing, thanked members of the Conservative Party “who have been helping me in the background”. Singled out for praise was Kaiser Rehman, a former Labour Councillor whose intervention in the appeal was, apparently, decisive.
A surprising outcome to many, as it was he whose contribution to an article headlined ‘Get The White Vote Angry‘(read here), published elsewhere on this website in November, 2021, that fatally undermined Miah’s core grievance against the Council. Namely, that child sexual exploitation was covered up, in conjunction with police, partner agencies and journalists, in return for Asian block votes in local and Parliamentary elections.
The Oldham Conservative Group were contacted for comment, with particular reference to the Party’s association with Raja Miah, via their appointed media representatives, Cllrs Dave Arnott and Luke Lancaster. Copied into the email was OCG Leader, Cllr Graham Sheldon.
They did not acknowledge or respond to the request. At the last Full Council meeting Cllr Sheldon complained about paid officers not responding to his emails, or responding late and in an unsatisfactory manner (read more here).
Raja Miah’s supporters are calling, again, for a statue to be erected in his honour following what he has described as striking ‘a devastating blow against tyranny’.
‘The ramifications of today’s judgement (sic) will be felt for years to come’, he added.
Speculation on social media has explored whether the statue should be marble, bronze – or even solid gold. Miah, reportedly, visited Oldham town centre on 13th October to identify a suitable site.
Page last updated at 1905hrs on Sunday 17th October, 2021
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Photo credit: Greater Manchester Police
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