Case number: 120156
Whether the Council's decision to refuse to grant the applicant's request for records was justified under section 10(1)(b) of the FOI Act in that the request did not comply with the requirements in section 7(1)(b) that it contain sufficient particulars to enable the record to be identified by the taking of reasonable steps
In a request dated 15 April 2012, the applicant sought access under section 7 of the FOI Act to "my entire record". On 14 May 2012, the Council issued a decision refusing access pursuant to section 7(1)(b) of the Act on the basis that the request did not contain sufficient information to enable the Council to identify the records by the taking of reasonable steps. The applicant applied on 17 May 2012 for an internal review of that decision. The applicant's internal review application restated her request dated 15 April 2012 as it appeared in its original format. On 5 June 2012 the Council issued its internal review decision upholding the original decision.
The applicant made an online application for review to this Office on 27 June 2012. On 20 July 2012 the applicant was advised by this Office that her application for review was being accepted and that an Investigator would be assigned to her case and would be in touch with her if necessary. She was at that time informed that she was entitled to make a submission which the Commissioner, or her delegate, would take into account in the review. No submission was received from the applicant. Ms. Anne O'Reilly, Investigator, attempted to contact the applicant by telephone and e-mail during the course of this review but received no response from the applicant. I consider that the review should now be brought to a close by the issue of a formal, binding decision.
In carrying out this review, I have had regard to the submissions made by the Council and the provisions of the FOI Act.
This review concerns the question of whether the Council's decision to refuse to grant the applicant's request was justified under the FOI Act.
The Council refused to grant the applicant's request on the basis that her request did not comply with section 7(1)(b) of the Act. This in effect is a refusal under section 10(1)(b) of the FOI Act which provides that a request may be refused if it does not comply with section 7(1)(b). Section 7(1)(b), in turn, requires that a request contain sufficient particulars in relation to the information concerned to enable the record to be identified by the taking of reasonable steps.
The Council explained that it had received previous FOI requests from the applicant, one of which required the Council to contact the applicant on five separate occasions seeking clarification of her request, before it was in a position to accept it as a valid request. On receipt of the current request, the FOI Deciding Officer considered that , as she had spent a considerable amount of time in the past explaining and assisting the applicant in an effort to obtain the information she required, the applicant was fully aware of what was required of her as a requester in order to allow the Council to identify the type of records being sought and accordingly decided to refuse the request.
In this case, I agree with the Council that the request was so broad as to necessitate unreasonable searches by the Council. As the applicant was advised previously by the Council, in the processing of a previous request, the Council has many different departments which deal with e.g. parking fines, waste management, planning, motor tax, housing, grant applications etc. Without clarity as to the particular type of records being sought, the Council would have had to search all of its various departments for records relating to the applicant, which would be an unreasonable use of the Council's resources. I note that the applicant made reference to previous applications for review to this Office. It appears that some of these reviews were settled on the basis that the applicant accepted the Investigator's view that she had received the relevant records within the scope of her FOI requests and that any further specific requests would have to be followed up separately with the public bodies involved. In any event, the applicant has given no indication in this case as to what additional record(s) she was seeking. Despite being given the opportunity to do so, the applicant did not clarify her request during the internal review process carried out by the Council or in her request to this Office for a review. Furthermore I note that she did not respond to a request from Ms O'Reilly to contact her to discuss her application. In the circumstances, I find that the request does not comply with the requirements of section 7(1)(b) and that section 10(1)(b) therefore applies.
Having carried out a review under section 34(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of the Council; I find that the decision to refuse to grant the applicant's request was justified under section 10(1)(b) of the FOI Act.
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 eight weeks after notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.
17 December, 2012