Case number: 150307
The Cork Centre for Architectural Education (CCAE) is a joint initiative of UCC and Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). The applicant, an employee of CIT, made a request to UCC on 21 November 2014 through his solicitor for the following records:
The minutes of the CCAE Joint Management Board (JMB) meeting of 13 November 2014.
All up to date communications to the applicant in regard to contract changes and changes in duties/contact hours to the applicant in 2014-2015.
All communications, documents, minutes of meetings of the JMB and CCAE to reallocate contact hours as detailed in certain specified emails regarding the decision to reallocate the applicant's contact hours in regard to the decision to alter the applicant's contact hours.
All rules and regulations and directions in regard to whom and how such decisions are made by the JMB and the CCAE.
By letter dated 19 January 2015, UCC stated that it had decided to grant the request but did not enclose the four records it had identified as coming within the scope of the request on the ground that they were "exact duplicates of the ones already released" by CIT in a separate request. It advised the applicant to contact UCC's Information Compliance Officer if he required copies of the records. It further stated that it did not hold any records in relation to the second part of his request. This decision was issued outside the four week timeline provided for in the FOI Act.
On 21 January 2015 the applicant wrote to UCC requesting an internal review of that decision. On 6 February 2015, UCC wrote to the applicant stating that as it had granted access to all records held by UCC relating to his request in its original decision, it was unclear what remained to be reviewed. On 15 March 2015, the applicant sought a review by this Office.
Following correspondence from this Office, UCC issued a letter setting out its effective position on the applicant's request on 27 March 2015. It upheld its original decision and released copies of the four records specified in the original decision. Three of the four records (Records 1-3) were subject to the redaction of material deemed not to be relevant to the applicant's request. This Office then closed the file relating to his application for review. On 10 September 2015, the applicant made a further application to this Office for a review of UCC's effective position and in doing so, he expressed dissatisfaction with the level of redaction of the records released and suggested that further relevant records exist.
During the course of the review, Ms Sandra Murdiff of this Office contacted UCC and sought details of the searches undertaken to identify all relevant records coming within the scope of the request. UCC has since indicated that additional records have been located that have to be examined for relevance. Accordingly, I now consider that this review should be brought to a close by means of a formal binding decision.
In conducting this review I have had regard to the communications between UCC and the applicant on the matter, and to the correspondence between this Office and both UCC and the applicant.
This review is concerned with the question of whether UCC was justified in its decision to grant only partial access to three records and to refuse access to additional records under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act on the ground that no further records exist or can be found.
UCC redacted three of the four records released on the ground that the redacted information was not relevant to his request. Having examined the records, I am not satisfied that all of the redactions are justified. The first record comprises the minutes of the JMB meeting of 13 November 2014. It appears that UCC considered that the only relevant part of the record coming within the scope of the request was the part that related to the changes in contact hours. However, the applicant expressly sought access to these minutes and did not limit his request to any specific information within the record. Accordingly, I find that UCC was not justified in deciding that the remainder of the record did not come within the scope of the applicant's request.
On the other hand, it seems to me that UCC was justified in deciding that only those parts of the second and third records, comprising further minutes of JMB meetings dated 25 June 2014 and 27 February 2014 respectively, that related to changes in contact hours came within the scope of the request as the applicant did not expressly seek access to these records. Having examined the redacted information, I find that UCC was justified in redacting the records, with the exception of paragraph 2 of the minutes of 25 June 2014, which clearly relates to changes in contact hours.
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 a case such as this is to review the decision of the FOI body and to decide whether that decision was justified.
As I have outlined above, UCC has informed this Office that additional records have been located following further searches. Having regard to the correspondence before me, I am satisfied that further relevant records exist that have not been considered for release. Accordingly, I find that UCC was not justified under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act in deciding that no further records coming within the scope of the applicant's request exist.
In summary, therefore, I find that UCC was not justified in redacting certain information from the minutes of the meeting of 13 November 2014 on the ground that the redacted information did not come within the scope of the applicant's request. I find that it was justified in redacting minutes of the meetings of 25 June 2014 and 27 February 2014, with the exception of paragraph 2 of the minutes of 25 June 2014. I find that it was not justified in finding that no further records coming within the scope of the applicant's request exist.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby vary the decision of UCC in this case. I direct it to release paragraph 2 of the minutes of 25 June 2014. I further direct it to undertake a fresh decision making process in respect of the minutes of 13 November 2014 and in relation to the additional records located during the course of the review.
Section 24 of the FOI Act sets out detailed provisions for an appeal to the High Court by a party to a review, or any other person affected by the decision. In summary, such an appeal, normally on a point of law, must be initiated by the applicant not later than eight weeks after notice of the decision was given, and by any other party not later than four weeks after notice of the decision was given.