Case number: 000384

Request for records relating to an application made to a District Court for a Court Order disclosing information relating to a conviction against Mr X - whether the records are official court records and exempt from release under section 46(1)(a) of the FOI Act

Case Summary

Facts

The requester sought access to records relating to an application made to a District Court for a Court Order disclosing information relating to a conviction against him. The Courts Service refused him access to the records on the grounds that they were official court records which were exempt under section 46(1)(a) of the FOI Act.

Decision

Section 46(1)(a) provides that, subject to two exceptions, the FOI Act does not apply to records held by the courts which relate to a court or to proceedings in a court. The first exception concerns records relating to proceedings in a court held in public, where the records were not created by the court and where disclosure of the records to the general public is not prohibited by the court. The second exception concerns records relating to the general administration of the courts.

The Courts Service stated that the application for the Court Order was made orally before the Judge in the District Court and that the applicant did not submit a written application. The Commissioner was satisfied that the records relating to the courts proceedings were created by the court and are held by the court, and that they did not come within the ambit of the first exception,. He also found that the records did not relate to the general administration of the courts. In these circumstances, the Commissioner find that the records were exempt from the scope of the FOI Act by virtue of section 46(1)(a).

Date of Decision: 13.12.2000

Our Reference: 000384

13.12.2000

ABC Solicitors

Re Your Client: Mr X Dear Sirs

I refer to your request on behalf of Mr X for a review of the decision of the Courts Service to refuse his request under the Freedom of Information Act 1997 (the "FOI Act") for access to records relating to an application made to Y District Court on [date] for a Court Order disclosing information relating to a conviction against Mr X on [date].

Background

I have now completed my review of the Courts Service's decision. In carrying out that review I have had regard to the Court Service's explanation for refusing Mr X's request. I note that Mr Tom Ryan, Investigator, wrote to you on 16 November 2000 outlining his preliminary views on the matter and inviting you to make any further comments which you consider may be of relevance to my decision. As I have not heard from you, I have decided to conclude my review by issuing a binding decision.

Scope of Review

The Courts Service refused access to the records sought on the grounds that they are official court records which are exempt under section 46(1)(a) of the FOI Act. My review is concerned solely with the question of whether the Courts Service's decision to refuse Mr X's request is correct.

Findings

As explained in Mr Ryan's letter, the Courts Service relied on section 46(1)(a) of the FOI Act to refuse access to the records requested by Mr X. Section 46(1)(a) provides that, subject to two exceptions, the FOI Act does not apply to records held by the courts which relate to a court or to proceedings in a court. The first exception concerns records relating to the general administration of the courts or offices of the courts. Secondly, by virtue of section 46(1)(a)(I), the Act applies to a record held by the courts and relating to proceedings in a court where the following three conditions are met:

  • the record relates to proceedings in a court held in public, and
  • the record was not created by the court, and
  • the disclosure of the record to the general public is not prohibited by the court.

As part of my review, I considered whether either of these exceptions is of relevance in Mr X's case.

The Courts Service states that the application for the Court Order of [date] was made orally before Judge O'Neill in Y District Court. The applicant did not submit a written application. Judge O'Neill, having accepted that the party making the application had a bona fide interest in the matter, directed that the Court Order be issued. The records relating to the court's proceedings were created by the court and are held by the court. In these circumstances, I am satisfied that none of them comes within the ambit of section 46(1)(a)(I) nor do any of them relate to the general administration of the courts. In these circumstances, I find that the records are exempt from the scope of the FOI Act by virtue of section 46(1)(a).

As Mr Ryan pointed out in his letter, the Rules of the District Court permit Mr X to apply to the District Court for a copy of a Court Order giving details of the application made to Y District Court on [date]. There is a prescribed fee for the provision of such a copy document. The copy Order, if granted by the court, would provide the details that Mr X requested under the FOI Act.

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 34(2) of the Freedom of Information Act, 1997, I hereby affirm the decision of the Courts Service in this case.

A party to a review, or any other person affected by a decision of the Information Commissioner following a review, may appeal to the High Court on a point of law arising from the decision. Such an appeal must be initiated not later than four weeks from the date of this letter.

Yours sincerely

Information Commissioner