Case number: OIC-126266-Q7F2L5
27 October 2022
This decision has its background in a composite decision I issued in April 2022 wherein I annulled a decision of the Defence Forces to refuse the applicant’s request for certain records and his application for a statement of reasons for a particular act that affected him. I directed the Defence Forces to undertake a fresh decision making process in respect of both matters (cases OIC-119546 and OIC-119911 refer)
The original request, dated 10 November 2021, was for;
On 16 May 2022, the Defence Forces issued a fresh decision in respect of the application for a statement of reasons. It said it had decided to grant the application and said the applicant had been provided with the reasons ion writing by the named medical professional during his visit in early May 2022.
On 2 June 2022, the applicant sought an internal review of that decision. The Defence Forces issued its internal review decision on 28 June 2022. While it purported to refuse the application for a statement of reasons under section 15(1)(i), which provides for the refusal of a request for records where the records sought have already been released, it said the medical professional had confirmed that he provided the statement sought. On 29 June 2022, the applicant sought a review by this Office of the decision of the Defence Forces.
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 Defence Forces and the applicant as outlined above, and to communications between this Office and both the applicant and the Defence Forces on the matter. I have also had regard to the contents of the record released to the applicant. I have decided to conclude this review by way of a formal, binding decision.
This review is concerned solely with the question of whether the Defence Forces has complied with the provisions of section 10 of the FOI Act in response to the application for a statement of reasons as to why the applicant was referred to the Defence Forces psychiatrist for consultation.
This Office has no remit to investigate complaints, to adjudicate on how FOI bodies perform their functions generally, or to act as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism with respect to actions taken by FOI bodies.
Section 10 of the FOI Act provides that a person who is affected by an act of an FOI body, and has a material interest in a matter affected by the act or to which it relates, is entitled to a statement of reasons for the act and of any findings on any material issues of fact made for the purposes of the act.
This Office takes the view that a statement of reasons should be intelligible and adequate having regard to the particular circumstances of the case. The statement should be sufficiently clear to enable an applicant to understand without undue difficulty why the FOI body acted as it did. It should identify the criteria relevant to the act and explain how each of the criteria affected the act. However, a statement should not necessarily have to contain a detailed clarification of all issues identified by an applicant as relevant to a particular act or decision.
In its submissions to this Office, the Defence Forces explained that the named doctor discussed the initial referral on 6 January 2021 with the applicant. It provided this Office with a copy of the consultation note to demonstrate the nature of the discussion. The Defence Forces submitted that this record had previously been released to the applicant in March 2021 on foot of a separate FOI request by the applicant for his medical notes. It appears that the applicant had at least one follow up appointment with the named doctor where the referral was discussed.
The Defence Forces explained that the named doctor did not wish to provide the Defence Forces FOI Unit with a copy of confidential medical information. Therefore, in order to comply with the applicant’s request, he provided the requested information to the applicant directly. The applicant attended the named doctor in May 2022. At this appointment, the doctor gave the applicant a copy of a consultation note from 24 January 2022 that outlines the reason he was referred to the psychiatrist in 2021. The Defence Forces outlined that the reasons for the referral were also verbally explained at the May 2022 appointment.
In the particular circumstances of this case, I am satisfied that the applicant can be in no doubt as to why the decision was taken to refer him for consultation given the contents of the medical notes from January 2021 and January 2022, copies of which have been made available to him. Due to the nature of the matter, I will not provide a description here of the statement provided to the applicant in May 2022. However, having considered the contents of the record, I am satisfied that the applicant has been fully informed of the reasons for the referral, in a clear and unambiguous manner.
I would add that while section 10 requires that a statement be “in writing or such other form as may be determined”, this does not, in my view, mean that an additional written statement must be provided where the reasons for the act are already contained in written form and details of same have been made known to the applicant.
In conclusion, I find that the Defence Forces has provided the applicant with an adequate statement of reasons for the decision to refer him to the Defence Forces psychiatrist and that it is not required to provide a further statement. I find that the Defence Forces has complied with provisions of section 10 of the Act in this case.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of the Defence Forces. I find that the Defence Forces has complied with the provisions of section 10 of the FOI Act and that the statement provided is adequate.
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.