Case number: 160211
On 31 March 2016 the Council received a request from the applicant for access to all documents held by it regarding his application to purchase his Council home.
In its decision of 14 April 2016 the Council granted the applicant access to seven pages of documentation, which it described as "all records". On 19 April 2016 the applicant sought an internal review of the Council's decision as he was of the view that further records should exist. On 5 May 2016 the Council issued an internal review decision in which it affirmed its original decision on the basis that it held no further documents relevant to the applicant's request. The applicant sought a review by this Office of the Council's decision on 10 May 2016.
In conducting this review I have had regard to the correspondence between the applicant and the Council, and to correspondence between this Office and both the applicant and the Council on the matter.
This review is concerned with the question of whether the Council was justified in refusing access to further records held by it relating to the applicant's application to purchase his Council home under section 15(1)(a) of the Act on the ground that no such further records exist or can be found.
Section 15(1)(a) of the 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.
During the course of the review, Mr Benjamin O'Gorman of this Office contacted the Council to obtain details of the searches undertaken to identify all relevant records and he sought specific information from the Council in relation to certain types of records that the applicant believed to be outstanding. In a submission dated 30 August 2016, the Council stated that during the course of preparing its response it conducted searches of an email archive using the applicant's name, and retrieved a high volume of results. It identified approximately 50 records as potentially coming within the scope of the request.
Accordingly, I find that in the circumstances of this case, the Council was not justified in its decision to refuse the request under section 15(1)(a) of the Act. As the records identified by the Council during the course of this review have not been formally considered for release, I am satisfied that the appropriate course of action to take is to annul the Council's decision and to direct it to undertake a fresh decision making process in relation to the request.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2014 I hereby annul the decision of the Council to refuse the request under section 15(1)(a) of the Act, and I direct it to undertake a fresh decision making process in respect of the original request.
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.