Case number: 160074
On 21 July 2015, the applicant made a request to the GRO for access to all documentation held by it in relation to the registration of a named deceased individual, including a coroner's certificate and a declaration of the registration of death. On 7 September 2015, the GRO refused the applicant's request under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act as the records sought could not be found.
On 14 September 2015, the applicant sought an internal review of that decision. On 28 September 2015, the GRO provided the applicant with a copy of the relevant entry of birth and death on the Register of Births and Deaths and a copy of the relevant historical birth and death registration information and stated that no further records exist or could be located. On 15 February 2016, the applicant sought a review by this Office of the GRO's decision.
During the course of the review, the GRO made submissions to this Office, detailing the searches carried out in relation to the applicant's request. I note that Mr Christopher Flood of this Office contacted the applicant on 23 March 2016 and provided him with details of the GRO's submissions. Mr Flood outlined his view that the GRO's decision was justified. However, on 8 April 2016 the applicant stated his desire for a decision to be issued. Accordingly, I have decided to conclude this review by way of a formal binding decision.
In carrying out this review, I have had regard to correspondence between the GRO and the applicant as set out above, to the records that the GRO provided to the applicant, copies of which were sent to this Office for the purposes of the review, to details of various contacts between this Office and the GRO and to details of various contacts between this Office and the applicant.
This review is solely concerned with whether the Department was justified in deciding that no further records relating to the applicant's request exist or can be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken. It is worth noting that this Office's remit does not extend to commenting on the manner in which a public body performs its functions generally, or to investigating complaints against a public body.
Section 15(1)(a) provides that access to a record may be refused if "the record concerned does not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain its whereabouts have been taken". In cases such as this one, the role of the Commissioner is to decide whether the decision maker has had regard to all the relevant evidence and to assess the adequacy of the searches conducted by the public body in looking for relevant records. The evidence in "search" cases generally consists of the steps actually taken to search for the records, along with miscellaneous other information about the record management practices of the public body, insofar as those practices relate to the records in question. 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. This Office's understanding of its role in such cases was approved by Quirke J. in the High Court case of Matthew Ryan and Kathleen Ryan v the Information Commissioner (2002 No. 18 M.C.A. available on this Office's website, www.oic.ie).
The individual about whom the applicant is seeking records died in 1980. In its submissions to this Office, the GRO stated that prior to 2004, information on the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) and Coroner's certificates containing cause of death were recorded in the Register of Deaths by the registrar. The MCCDs and Coroner's certificates were then sent by the Civil Registration Service to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in order to compile statistics on causes of death and were subsequently returned to the GRO for destruction. It stated that following commencement of electronic registration of life events in 2004, this process ceased as the CSO had access to the computerised registration system at that stage. It further stated that while it has retained a number of MCCDs and Coroner's certificates from 1981 to 2004, it holds no records prior to 1981.
It is the position of the GRO that the records sought by the applicant in this case do not exist as they would have been destroyed when returned from the CSO in line with the policy of the time as all relevant details were transcribed onto the Register of Deaths. Nevertheless, it stated that in responding to the applicant's request, archived coronary certificates and medical certificates of cause of death in its office had been searched manually and that the civil registration computer system was used to check relevant names and dates. No further records were located during the course of this review. In the present case, I find no basis for disputing the GRO's claim that the records requested by the applicant do not exist.
In the circumstances outlined above, I am satisfied that Department's decision to refuse to release further records to the applicant was justified on the basis that no further records exist or can be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2014, I hereby affirm the decision of the Department 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 not later than four weeks after notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.