Case number: 160055
On 5 October 2015, the applicant made a request to the AG's Office for access to any decisions of the AG's Office which involved potential deductions from his personal pension. On 2 November 2015, the AG's Office decided to refuse the request under section 42(f) of the FOI Act on the ground that the records sought by the applicant did not relate to the general administration of the Office and were therefore exempt. Following further correspondence between the applicant and the AG's Office, the applicant sought an internal review of that decision on 23 November 2015. In its internal review decision of 8 December 2015, the AG's Office upheld its original decision. On 5 January 2016, the applicant sought a review of that decision by this Office.
In conducting this review, I have had regard to correspondence between the AG's Office and the applicant as set out above. I have also had regard to the communications between this Office and both the applicant and the AG's Office.
The scope of this review is solely concerned with whether the AG's Office was justified in refusing access to records relating to any decisions of the AG's Office in relation to potential deductions from the applicant's personal pension under section 42(f) of the FOI Act on the ground that the Act does not apply to such records.
In his application to this Office the applicant contended that the AG's Office's processing of his request was deficient in certain respects. He argued that the internal review decision maker was the same person as the original decision maker, that internal review was not a review under section 21, and that he was incorrectly charged a fee for the internal review. He stated that he only wished to know if the AG's Office had advised the government about precedence rather than the actual content of that advice. The applicant also made reference to his rights under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and offered his views as to the duties of the AG's Office.
The original decision was made by the Head of Administration of the AG's Office on 2 November 2015 under section 13 of the Act. While I note that the decision letter did not contain details of the applicant's right to apply for an internal review of that decision, I am satisfied that this, of itself, does not mean that the decision was not valid. In any event the applicant applied for an internal review of that decision and on 8 December 2015, the Deputy Director General issued his internal review decision under section 21 of the Act. Section 21(1)(a) provides for a review of a decision taken by a public body to refuse to grant a request, as was the case here. Furthermore, I am also satisfied that the AG's Office correctly charged a fee for the making of the application for internal review. I should also explain that in reviews such as this, the role of this Office is as prescribed by the relevant provisions of the FOI Act. In this case, that role is confined to reviewing the decision of the AG's Office and determining whether its decision was justified, having regard to the provisions of the FOI Act.
Section 42(f) of the FOI Act provides that the Act does not apply to a record held or created by the Attorney General or the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Offices of the Attorney General or the Director of Public Prosecutions, other than a record relating to general administration. In its internal review decision, the AG's Office informed the applicant that any documents which might exist within its Office and which might relate to the potential deductions from his personal pension would not be documents which relate to the general administration of that Office but rather would be documents seeking legal advice in relation to legislation or litigation.
While the Act is silent on the meaning of general administration, this Office considers that it clearly refers to records which have to do with the management of the AG's Office such as records relating to personnel, pay matters, recruitment, accounts, information technology, accommodation, internal organisation, office procedures and the like. I am satisfied that it does not refer to records relating to matters concerning the core business of the Office, such as advising on legislation or litigation.
In this case, I am satisfied that the records sought by the applicant are records relating to the core business of the AG's Office and that they are not records relating to the general administration of that Office. I find, therefore, that the AG's Office was justified in refusing the applicant's request under section 42(f) of the FOI Act.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the Act, I hereby affirm the decision of the AG's Office in this case.
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.