Case number: OIC-105574-G1C7N9
4 May 2021
In a request dated 28 February 2021, the applicant sought access to details of all submissions made by the CSSO to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and the Labour Court in complaints and appeals submitted by him against the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in the period December 2016 to date, to include references, dates on which he was provided with each submission, the method by which each submission was provided to him or his representatives, whether any of the submissions was subsequently amended and if so, when and how were any such amendments provided to him, and the number of pages in each submission and appendices.
In a decision dated 15 March 2021, the CSSO refused the request under section 42(f) of the FOI Act on the ground that the Act does not apply to records held by the CSSO, as a constituent Office of the Office of the Attorney General, apart from records relating to general administration.
On 15 March 2021, the applicant sought an internal review of that decision, wherein he argued that the records sought relate to general administration, following which the CSSO affirmed its refusal of the request. On 24 March 2021, the applicant sought a review by this Office of the CSSO’s decision.
I have now completed my review in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act. In carrying out my review, I have had regard to the correspondence between the applicant and the CSSO as set out above and to the communications between my Office and both the applicant and the CSSO on the matter. I have decided to conclude this review by way of a formal, binding decision.
This review is concerned solely with whether the CSSO was justified, under section 42(f) of the FOI Act, in refusing the applicant’s request for information relating to submissions it made to the WRC and the Labour Court in connection with complaints and appeals he had submitted.
Section 42(f) provides that the Act does not apply to a record held or created by the Office of the Attorney General other than a record relating to general administration. The CSSO is a constituent office of the Office of the Attorney General.
In his application to this Office, the applicant said the information requested relates to the CSSO's timeliness in providing him with copies of submissions made to the WRC and the Labour Court in cases he had taken against the Minister pursuant to the Protected Disclosures Act and the Unfair Dismissals Acts from 2016 to date. He said the information sought did not relate to the nature or content of any legal advice that the CSSO provided in the cases at issue.
In its submissions to this Office, the CSSO said it made the submissions to the WRC and Labour Court on behalf of the Minister/Department and noted that the applicant himself acknowledges that the records relate to a case taken against The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation under the Unfair Dismissals Act 2016. It said that providing legal services to Government Departments such as this forms part of the core business of its Office. As such, the CSSO argued that the details sought relating to those submissions would not come under the general administration heading but would, in fact, form part of its core business.
I should say at this stage that while the purpose of the FOI Act is to enable members of the public to obtain access to information held by public bodies, the mechanism for doing so is by accessing records held by those bodies. In other words, a person wishing to obtain information from a public body must make a request for records that contain the information sought. Requests for information or for answers to questions, as opposed to requests for records, are not valid requests under the Act, except to the extent that a request for information or for an answer to a question can reasonably be inferred to be a request for a record containing the information or answer sought.
As such, the question I must consider in this case is whether any records held by the CSSO that contain the information sought relate to “general administration”. While the FOI Act is silent on the meaning of general administration, this Office considers that it refers to records which concern the management of the Office such as records relating to personnel, pay matters, recruitment, accounts, information technology, accommodation, internal organisation, office procedures and the like.
While I accept that the applicant has not sought copies of the submissions the CSSO made to the WRC and the Labour Court, the information sought relates to records created by the CSSO in the course of the performance of its core functions. As such, I am satisfied that the information sought relates to the core functions of the CSSO and not to general administration.
Having had regard to the nature of the information sought, I find, that the CSSO 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 Freedom of Information Act 2014, I hereby affirm the CSSO’s decision to refuse, under section 42(f) of the FOI Act, the applicant’s request for information relating to submissions it made to the WRC and the Labour Court in connection with complaints and appeals he had submitted.
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.