Case number: OIC-101355-P9D3V4
9 June 2021
Al references to communications with the applicant in this case should be taken to include communications with his solicitor. The case arises from a previous review by this Office (OIC-95105) of a decision taken by Camphill on a request made by the applicant for all personal information held in relation to his daughter. In that case, I found that Camphill had essentially refused the request by simply claiming a blanket exemption for all records without having examined the contents of each record coming within the scope of the request in order to determine if each record should properly be refused under the relevant exemption provisions, being sections 32 and 37. I issued my decision on 4 September 2002, wherein I annulled Camphill’s decision and directed it to consider the request afresh.
Subsequently, Camphill wrote to the applicant on 21 October 2020 and informed him that responding to the request as drafted would cause a substantial and unreasonable interference with or disruption of work due to the both the number of records at issue and the nature of the records sought. It offered him an opportunity to amend the request so that it would no longer involve a substantial and unreasonable interference with or disruption of work. It suggested that he should set out, with a degree of particularity, the precise records sought and that the timeframe of the request be limited so that it covers records within a particular timeframe. It explained that if he was not in a position to refine the request, it may be refused under section 15(1)(c) of the Act. Camphill also invited the applicant to contact it if further assistance in refining the request was required.
By letter dated 9 November 2020, the applicant declined to narrow the scope of the request. He stated that, as the deadline for issuing a fresh decision had passed, he would inform this Office of Camphill’s failure to issue a decision if it did not do so by 13 November 2020. Camphill wrote to the applicant again, on 11 November 2020, wherein it offered him another opportunity to narrow the scope of the request. In that letter, it outlined the types of records it held and suggested that it could hold in the region of 100,000 relevant records covering a 29 year period.
On 19 November 2020, the applicant wrote to Camphill and requested an internal review of the deemed refusal of the request, on the basis that a decision had not issued. Camphill issued its decision on the request on the same day, refusing the request under section 15(1)(c) of the FOI Act. On 14 December 2020, the applicant sought a review by this Office of Camphill’s decision on the basis that Camphill had failed to issue an internal review decision.
During the course of the review, the investigating officer provided the applicant with the key details of Camphill’s submission, in which it explained why it decided to refuse the request under section 15(1)(c) of the Act. She informed the applicant of her view that Camphill’s decision was justified. To date, the applicant has not responded. I have now decided to conclude this case by way of a formal binding decision.
In conducting my review, I have had regard to the correspondence between Camphill and the applicant as outlined above and to correspondence between this Office and both Camphill and the applicant on the matter.
This review is concerned solely with whether Camphill was justified in its decision to refuse the applicant’s request for all personal information held in relation to his daughter under section 15(1)(c) of the FOI Act.
Section 15(1)(c) provides for the refusal of a request where the FOI body considers that granting the request would, by reason of the number or nature of the records concerned or the nature of the information concerned, require the retrieval and examination of such number of records or an examination of such kind of the records concerned as to cause a substantial and unreasonable interference with, or disruption of, work (including disruption of work in a particular functional area) of the FOI body concerned.
In its submissions to this Office, Camphill said that the applicant’s daughter had been a resident with Camphill for approximately 29 years and that during that time, a significant number of records (care and medical records) had been created. It explained that it would normally add approximately 10 records to a resident's file daily. From basic records alone, over a 29-year period, it estimated that it would hold over 100,000 records relating to the applicant’s daughter.
Camphill added that the records were not saved in a central location. It explained that its records are stored using hard copy files, soft copy files, email and daily logs. It said it also uses SharePoint, diaries and older computer systems. It said that electronic records are held on Outlook and Sharepoint. It explained that Sharepoint was only introduced in the organisation in 2018 and therefore the vast majority of the records within the scope of the request would be held in hard copy only and consist of handwritten notes.
Camphill said that to carry out the steps outlined above, it estimated that it would require one person working full time 20 weeks to search for and retrieve these records. Camphill also stated that significant time would also be required to determine:
Due to the nature of the records, Camphill stated that a suitably qualified individual would need to be engaged to carry out the review of the records once retrieved to ensure that records are not disclosed in breach of law. Camphill explained that an external legal advisor would need to be engaged for this review and that the time incurred in conducting that review would be significant. Camphill estimated that if a review of each individual record took 5 minutes, based on the estimate of 100,000 records, the review would take 500,000 minutes or 8,333 hours. Based on a notional cost of €200 per hour, Camphill estimated that the review would cost in the region of €1,666,000.
Camphill stated that it is a charitable organisation with limited funds and resources. It argued that it owes a duty to its residents and funders to ensure that funds and resources are carefully managed. It said that responding to the FOI request as currently drafted would divert significant funds and resources from other areas of its organisation and from its residents.
Section 15(1)(c) of the Act is an express acknowledgement of the fact that there are limits to the resources a public body must expend on processing requests. The FOI Act seeks to strike a balance between ensuring access to records to the greatest extent possible and managing the administrative burden on FOI bodies in dealing with requests that require a significant allocation of time and resources.
I accept Camphill’s explanation of the time and resources that would be required to retrieve and examine the records coming within the scope of the applicant’s request. I also accept Camphill’s contention that processing the request would cause a substantial and unreasonable interference with, and disruption of, its work. I find, therefore, that Camphill was justified in refusing the request under section 15(1)(c).
Section 15(4) of the FOI Act provides that an FOI body shall not refuse a request pursuant to section 15(1)(c) unless it has assisted, or offered to assist, the requester in an effort to amend the request for re-submission so that it no longer falls within section 15(1)(c). As set out in the background section of this decision, there were a number of exchanges of correspondence between the parties concerning the scope of the request. Camphill provided this Office with a copy of this correspondence. Having regard to those exchanges, I am satisfied that Camphill offered reasonable assistance to the applicant to refine the request. In the circumstances, I am satisfied that Camphill has fulfilled the requirements under section 15(4).
In conclusion, therefore, I find that Camphill was justified in its decision to refuse the applicant’s request for all records relating to her time spent in residential care under section 15(1)(c) of the FOI Act on the ground that processing the request would cause a substantial and unreasonable interference with, or disruption of, its work. It remains open to the applicant to submit a revised request if he wishes to do so.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of Camphill to refuse the applicant’s request for all records relating to his daughter under section 15(1)(c) of the FOI Act.
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.