Case number: 150438
The applicant submitted a request to the Department on 29 October 2015 for a statement of reasons as to why the Department increased his disablement pension solely on the basis of two out of four conditions listed in a named doctor's report. On 24 November 2015, the Department refused his request under section 15(1)(g) of the Act on the basis that it was vexatious. On 27 November 2015, the applicant applied for an internal review of that decision. On 15 December 2015, the Department affirmed its original decision. The applicant applied to this Office for a review of that decision on 17 December 2015.
I note that Ms Sandra Murdiff of this Office contacted the applicant on 26 January 2016 and informed him of her view that the Department was justified in its decision. She invited him to make a submission if he did not agree with her view, but while he indicated that he does not agree with her, he stated that he would not be making a submission. Accordingly, I consider that this review should now be brought to a close by means of a formal binding decision.
In conducting this review I have had regard to the correspondence between the Department and the applicant on the request, and to correspondence between this Office and both the applicant and the Department on the matter.
This review is solely concerned with whether the Department was justified in its decision to refuse the applicant's request on the ground that it is vexatious.
In its decision, the Department cited section 15(1)(g) in its decision to refuse the applicant's request. Section 15 provides for the administrative refusal of requests for access to records on various grounds. However, the applicant's request for a statement of reasons falls to be considered under section 10 of the FOI Act. Section 10(7) allows for the refusal of a request for a statement of reasons on the same basis that requests for access to records can be refused under section 15(1)(g) - i.e. that the request is frivolous or vexatious, or forms part of a pattern of manifestly unreasonable requests. Accordingly, I am satisfied that it is appropriate to consider the Department's argument for refusing the request in the ground that it is vexatious.
This Office considers that the factors to be considered in assessing whether a request may be categorised as frivolous or vexatious include the following
I have adopted that same approach for the purpose of conducting this review.
It is clear to me that the applicant's request to the Department is directly related to his ongoing efforts to challenge the amount of disablement pension that he was awarded by the Department. In its decision on his request, the Department stated that it has continually attempted to answer the applicant's questions and deal with his FOI requests to the best of its ability. It also stated that doing this has involved attempts to interpret old, incomplete and/or archived records. The Department further stated that it accepted that the multiple attempts to make sense of the scant information available have not assisted in the applicant's understanding of the situation. The Department has stated that all relevant records have been released to the applicant and the Department's position is that it declines any further request to interpret, comment on or draw inference from any records relating to the medical assessment or examination in question.
It is my understanding that each time the Department has attempted to clarify an issue or engage in correspondence with the applicant on these matters, he has made further FOI requests, including requests for access to records, to amend records and to provide further statements of reasons. In fact, the issues arising in this review are very similar to those in Cases 140061, 140062, 140094, 140093, 140111 and 140114 where this Office discontinued a number of applications from the same applicant to the Department seeking records and statements of reasons on related matters on the ground that the requests formed part of a pattern of manifestly unreasonable requests from the same requester. Indeed, the request in this case is almost identical to the request that was the subject of review in case 140062
It seems to me that the FOI request in this case refers to matters which have received significant prior attention. In essence, it seems to me that the applicant's primary purpose of submitting the request was to pursue his dispute that has been ongoing for a number of years. It appears to me therefore, that the applicant is using the FOI Act for a purpose unrelated to the right of access to records, i.e. it is being used tactically for the purpose of pursuing the dispute. Accordingly, I am satisfied that that the Department was justified in deciding to refuse the request at issue on the ground that it is vexatious. I find, therefore, that section 10(7) applies.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2014, I hereby affirm the decision of the Department.
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 not later than four weeks after notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.