Case number: 140051

Whether the PAS has provided a sufficient statement of reasons to the applicant in relation to his request, under Section 18 of the FOI Act, for the reasons he was not invited to Stage 3 of the recruitment process for a position of Administrative Officer in the Civil Service.

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

Background

The PAS advertised a recruitment campaign in 2013 for the position of Administrative Officer in the Civil Service in respect of five different streams (Law, Economics, Finance Banking, Tax Policy and Human Resources). The applicant applied for all five and took part in Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the process but was not called to Stage 3 (referred to by the applicant as the "second stage" of the campaign, but by the PAS as "Stage 3" - for clarity I shall use the PAS's term throughout this decision) in relation to any of the streams.

In a request dated 16 December 2013, the applicant sought access under the FOI Act to records held by the PAS in relation to his application for the position of Administrative Officer. He also requested a statement of reasons under section 18 of the Act explaining why he was not called to Stage 3 of the competition (supervised tests). The PAS released a number of records to the applicant in response to his request, as well as a statement of reasons explaining why he was not called to the next stage in respect of each stream. On 21 February 2014, following an internal review, the PAS released further records to the applicant in relation to his job application and upheld its original decision in respect of the statement of reasons issued. On 25 February 2014 the applicant applied to the Commissioner for a review of the PAS's decision in relation to the statement of reasons as to why despite having a "sufficiently high score that qualified... for the next stage" he was excluded from Stage 3. Accordingly, this review is solely concerned with adequacy of the statement of reasons provided to the applicant having regard to the provisions of the Act.

In conducting this review I have had regard to the PAS's decisions on the matter and its communications with this Office; the applicant's communications with this Office and PAS; and the provisions of the FOI Act.

I note that Ms Sandra Murdiff, Investigating Officer in this Office contacted the applicant by email on 14 April 2014 and explained that, in her view, the material supplied by the PAS in response to his FOI request met the requirements as set out in section 18 of the FOI Act. The applicant did not agree with Ms Murdiff's view and made further submissions to this Office on 1 May 2014. The applicant also forwarded further submissions dated 6 May 2014 and 8 May 2014 which included a copy of a letter from the PAS to the applicant dated 14 April 2014, setting out additional details in relation to his qualifications and the requirements of the Administrative Officer recruitment campaign, as well as a letter from the PAS to the Equality Authority dated 14 November 2013. The applicant contends that the 14 April letter to him demonstrates that the statement of reasons he received in the first place was inadequate. Having reviewed Ms Murdiff's email and the applicant's submissions it is my opinion that this review should now be concluded by way of a formal binding decision.

Scope of Review

This review is concerned solely with the question of whether the statement of reasons provided to the applicant by the PAS is adequate for the purposes of section 18 of the FOI Act.

Analysis and Findings

Where a requester applies for a review of a decision of a public body on the grounds that s/he is not satisfied with the contents of a statement of reasons, 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 given is adequate. His remit does not extend to examining the appropriateness or otherwise of the particular act for which reasons are sought. In this instance, the "act" in question is the decision not to call the applicant to Stage 3 of the recruitment process.

At this point it would be useful to set out what I consider should be the principal features of a statement of reasons having regard to section 18. In my 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 requester to understand without undue 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, I do not consider that a statement should necessarily have to contain a detailed clarification of all issues identified by a requester as relevant to a particular act or decision.

The applicant's detailed submissions of 26 March and 1 May 2014 take issue with the appropriateness or otherwise of the reasoning which led to his not being invited to the next stage of the recruitment process. This matter is outside the scope of the review. I am solely concerned with the adequacy of the statement of reasons provided to the applicant.

I have carefully examined the section 18 statement provided by the PAS, which clearly sets out the marking scheme for each component of the competition, the applicant's scores in Stage 2 and the reasons the applicant did not progress to the next stage of the recruitment process in relation to each stream. I would summarise the main points in the statement as follows:

  • Law: the applicant reached the qualifying standard in the Stage 2 tests but was not placed sufficiently high in the order of merit to be called to the next stage of the competition.
  • Economics, Finance Banking and Tax Policy: the applicant did not reach the qualifying standard in Stage 2.
  • Human Resources: the PAS was not satisfied that the applicant's qualifications fulfilled the essential requirements of the post.

 

In my opinion, it is clear that the applicant's continuing objections to the statement provided pertain to the appropriateness of the decisions taken by the PAS (in relation to one stream in particular), and are therefore outside the scope of this review. In my view, the statement of reasons provided by the PAS to the applicant fully explains why he was not called to Stage 3 of the selection process. I am therefore satisfied that it has fulfilled its obligations under section 18 of the FOI Act, and I find accordingly.

Furthermore, while the letter dated 14 April 2014 from the PAS to the applicant provides further clarification of its decisions, I am satisfied that the initial statement proved by the PAS to the applicant did meet its obligations under section 18 of the FOI Act by providing adequate explanations for the decisions for which the applicant sought a statement of reasons. I do not accept that the further provision of this letter demonstrates, as contended by the applicant, that the original statement was inadequate. The letter from the PAS to the Equality Authority is in relation to general matters regarding the Administrative Officer competition and I do not consider it relevant to this review.

Decision

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

Right of Appeal

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 from the date on which notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.


Sean Garvey
Senior Investigator