Case number: OIC-53285-J5X5S6 (190035)
10 July 2019
In a letter of 31 October 2018 to the Department, the applicants stated that they had been reported a number of times since 2016 for alleged animal welfare issues resulting in inspections by Department officials and they sought the names of the persons who reported them. On 10 December 2018 the Department refused the request on the ground that the information sought by the applicants was given to the Department in confidence.
The applicants sought an internal review of that decision on 14 December 2018. In its internal review decision of 10 January 2019 the Department affirmed the refusal of the request but on different grounds. It stated that no record containing the information sought exists. On 17 January 2019, the applicants sought a review by this Office of that decision.
During the course of the review, the Department provided this Office with details of the searches it carried out to locate the information sought by the applicants. Ms McCrory of this Office outlined the details of those searches to the applicants and informed them of her view that the Department was justified in refusing the request on the ground that no records containing the information sought exist. The applicants subsequently indicated that they want a formal decision on their case.
I have decided to conclude this review by way of a formal, binding decision. In conducting the review, I have had regard to correspondence between the Department and the applicants as outlined above, and to communications between this Office and both the Department and the applicants on the matter.
This review is concerned solely with whether the Department was justified in refusing access to the names of the persons who reported the applicants for alleged animal welfare issues on the ground that no record containing the information sought exists.
Section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act provides that a request for access to records may be refused if the records sought either do not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken. The Commissioner’s role in such cases is to review the decision of the FOI body and to decide whether the decision was justified.
This Office must have regard to the evidence available to the decision maker in arriving at his/her decision. 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 FOI body, insofar as those practices relate to the records in question.
In its submission to this Office the Department stated that the inspections carried out in this case resulted from an anonymous report it received via the Animal Welfare Hotline on 15 March 2016 and that this anonymous report initiated the sequence of inspections that commenced in April 2016. It stated that there is no record of any further communication from a member of the public or elsewhere in relation to this matter. It also stated that the subsequent visits are routine follow up reports conducted by veterinary officers until such time as it is considered that there is no further animal welfare risk.
Having considered the Department’s explanation as to why no records exist, I find that it was justified in refusing access to the records sought in this case on the ground that no relevant records exist containing the name of the person who reported the welfare concerns.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, 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.