Case number: 100123

Case 100123

The Senior Investigator found that the Section 18 requirements of the FOI Act were met by the Department of Justice and Equality in this case.

Case Summary

Whether the decision by the Department of Justice and Equality to grant a request under Section 18 of the FOI Act for a statement of reasons why the applicant "had no annual review meeting(s) at all for the PMDS year of 2009" has met the requirements of Section 18 of the FOI Act in this case.

Date of Decision: 21.12.2011

Review Application under the Freedom of Information Acts 1997 and 2003 (the FOI Act) to the Information Commissioner

Background:

On 30 March 2010, the applicant sought "..a formal statement as to the reasons why I had no annual review meeting(s) at all for the PMDS year of 2009.."in accordance with the provisions of section 18 of the FOI Act.  The Department granted the request and provided a statement of reasons by letter dated 12 April 2010.  On 22 April 2010 the applicant sought an internal review of the Department's decision as he was not satisfied with the statement of reasons provided.  The Department upheld the original decision on 21 May 2010.  On 26 May 2010, the applicant applied to the Office of the Information Commissioner for a review of the Department's decision.

During the course of the review, the Department issued the requester with a revised statement of reasons on 22 September 2010. Following further correspondence with this Office relating to some concerns raised by the applicant, the Department subsequently issued, on 27 October 2011, a revised statement of reasons. On 3 November 2011, Mr O'Donohoe, Investigator, informed the applicant of his preliminary view that the revised statement of reasons is adequate for the purposes of section 18 of the FOI Act and he invited the applicant to make further comments if he disagreed with that preliminary view.  As no such comments have been submitted, I consider that the review should be brought to a close by the issue of a formal, binding decision. 

In conducting this review I have had regard to the provisions of the FOI Acts, the relevant submissions of  the Department and those of the applicant, and to the revised statement of reasons issued to the applicant.

Conducted in accordance with Section 34(2) of the FOI Act by Stephen Rafferty, Senior Investigator, who is authorised by the Information Commissioner to conduct this review.

Submissions

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Findings

This review is concerned solely with the question of whether the revised statement of reasons which issued on 27 October 2011 is adequate for the purposes of Section 18 of the FOI Act and does not extend to a consideration of whether or not the applicant was, in fact, entitled to an annual review meeting for the year 2009.  Section 18 of the FOI Act provides that a person is entitled to a statement of reasons for an act of a public body where that person is affected by that act and has a material interest in a matter affected by the act or to which it relates.

Where a person applies for a review of a decision of a public body on the ground that s/he is not satisfied with the contents of the decision given, the Commissioner's role is confined to deciding whether the public body has complied with the requirements imposed on it by Section 18, i.e. whether the statement is adequate.  It would be useful to set out what the Commissioner considers should be the principal features of a statement of reasons having regard to Section 18. In the Commissioner's view, a statement of reasons should be intelligible and adequate having regard to the particular circumstances of the case. The statement should be sufficiently clear to enable the applicant to understand without due difficulty why the public body acted as it did. It should identify the criteria relevant to the act and explain how each of the criteria affected the act. However, a statement must not necessarily contain a detailed clarification of all issues identified by an applicant as relevant to a particular act or decision. The Commissioner considers that the purpose of Section 18 of the FOI Act is to ensure that such reasons for an act as may be identified are conveyed to the applicant; where reasons cannot be identified, it is not the purpose of Section 18 to require the creation, after the event, of such reasons. Furthermore her remit does not extend to examining the appropriateness or otherwise of the particular act for which reasons are sought.

Having considered the revised statement of reasons, I find that it clearly explains why no annual review meeting was held with the applicant for the PMDS year of 2009.  The statement explains that the applicant's current manager approached his former manager and it was agreed that the former manager  would carry out the 2009 annual review.  The statement contains the former manager's reasons for considering it unnecessary to conduct an annual review meeting with the applicant  The Department has confirmed to this Office that the former manager is satisfied that the statement of reasons adequately reflects her reasons for her actions. 

In his submission dated 11 October 2010, the applicant provides examples of where he has interpreted events differently to the manner in which they are recorded in the statement of reasons.  I am satisfied that these examples are merely different interpretations of those events and that they have no material bearing on the adequacy of the statement provided.  Indeed, in that same submission, while the applicant explains that he doesn't accept the reasons offered in the statement as being adequate, he offers no concrete evidence supporting the assertion.  Accordingly, I find that the Department's revised statement of reasons is adequate for the purposes of Section 18 of the FOI Act.

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 34(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 1997, as amended, I hereby decide that the Department of Justice and Equality has complied with the requirements of section 18 of the Act in this case.

Right of Appeal

A party to a review, or any other person affected by the decision of the Information Commissioner following a review, may appeal to the High Court on a point of law arising from the decision. Any such appeal must be initiated not later than eight weeks from the date on which notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.

Seán Garvey

Senior Garvey

21 December 2011