Case number: 150210
This review has its background in a report Revenue issued to the applicant in response to his complaint under the Disability Act 2005. The report contains a statement that a named Revenue Access Officers could rightly make an assertion that Revenue has always helped the applicant in every way it could as it is based on fact and backed up by Revenue records. The applicant submitted a request to Revenue on 13 April 2015 for access to those records that back up the assertion, as suggested.
In its decision of 11 May 2015, Revenue released all 61 records that it had identified as coming within the scope of his request. The applicant sought an internal review of that decision as he considered that the records released did not show that Revenue has always helped him in every way it could. Revenue issued its internal review decision on 30 June 2015 in which it upheld the original decision on the ground that all relevant records had been identified and released and that no additional relevant records had been identified following further searches.
The applicant applied to this Office for a review of Revenue's decision on 12 June 2015. During the course of the review Mr. Christopher Campbell of this Office informed the applicant of his view that Revenue was justified in refusing his request for additional records based on the details of the searches undertaken.. The applicant has suggested that the best means to bring this review to close would be by way of a formal binding decision.
In conducting this review I have had regard to the communications between this Office and both the applicant and Revenue and to the communications between the applicant and Revenue.
This review is concerned solely with the question of whether Revenue was justified in its decision to refuse the request on the ground that no further records exist or can be found after all reasonable steps have been taken to ascertain their whereabouts.
Section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act provides for the refusal of a request where the records sought do not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken. The Commissioner's role in cases such as this is to review the decision of the public body and to decide whether that decision was justified. This means that I must have regard to the evidence available to the decision maker and the reasoning used by the decision maker in arriving at his/her decision and also must assess the adequacy of the searches conducted by the public body in looking for relevant records. The evidence in "search" cases consists of the steps actually taken to search for records, along with miscellaneous other evidence about the record management practices of the public body, on the basis of which the public body concluded that the steps taken to search for records were reasonable. On the basis of the information provided, the Commissioner forms a view as to whether the decision maker was justified in coming to the decision that the records sought do not exist or cannot be found. It is not normally the Commissioner's function to search for records that a requester believes are in existence. The Office's understanding of its role in such cases was approved by Mr Justice Quirke in the High Court case of Matthew Ryan and Kathleen Ryan and the Information Commissioner (2002 No. 18 M.C.A. available on this Office's website,www.oic.ie).
In its submission to this Office, Revenue stated that all of the applicant's records relating to policy issues raised by him, eg the Disability Act, his ability to access Revenue records etc., are created and stored in Planning Division (PD) and/or the Dublin Region (DR). It stated that the only records held in PD and DR concerning the applicant are held by the two Access Officers in their specific roles, or by the revenue official who was assigned as Inquiry Officer to examine his original complaint to Revenue, which related to difficulties in accessing Revenue systems, Local Property Tax and valuation issues etc.
Revenue stated that the relevant officials conducted detailed manual and electronic searches for relevant records, following which 61 records were identified and released to the applicant. It appears that the applicant's concern relates primarily to his view that the records released do not support the contention that Revenue has always helped him in every way it could, as claimed. However, it is not a matter for this Office to consider whether the records released support the contention or not. The role of this Office is confined to determining whether Revenue was justified in deciding that no further relevant records exist or can be found.
Taking into consideration Revenue's submission in this case, I am satisfied that it has taken all reasonable steps to locate records within within the scope of the applicant's request. I find, therefore, that Revenue was justified in deciding to refuse the request for additional records under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act on the ground that no further relevant records exist or can be found.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2015, I hereby affirm the decision of Revenue 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 on which notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.