Case number: 170495
The applicant wrote to the Irish Prison Service (the IPS) on 11 August 2017 requesting access to any information kept about him, including his personnel file and any parts of it held in various locations of the IPS.
As the IPS failed to issue a decision on the request within the required time frame, the applicant sought an internal review of the deemed refusal of his request on 21 September 2017. As the Department also failed to issue an internal review decision within the required time frame, the applicant sought a review by this Office on 16 October 2017. Shortly afterwards, the IPS issued an internal review decision, wherein it decided to grant the request with the redaction of certain personal information relating to third parties.
However, the review proceeded as the applicant was not satisfied that he had received all relevant records. I have decided to bring this review to a close by way of a formal, binding decision. In carrying out the review, I have had regard to the correspondence between the IPS and the applicant and to the communications between this Office and both the applicant and the IPS on the matter.
This review is concerned solely with whether the IPS was justified in refusing access to further relevant records coming within the scope of the applicant's request for all records containing information about him.
Section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act provides that a request for access to records may be refused if the records do not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken. The Commissioner's role in cases such as this is to review the decision of the FOI body and to decide whether that decision was justified. This means that I must have regard to the evidence available to the decision maker and the reasoning used by the decision maker in arriving at his/her decision and also must assess the adequacy of the searches conducted by the FOI body in looking for relevant records.
In correspondence with this Office the IPS explained that the applicant's request was originally interpreted as being a request for the applicant’s personnel file only but it now accepts that the request was wider in scope. It stated that another file exists containing information relating to the applicant and that further email searches that would normally take place did not occur.
In these circumstances, I must find that the IPS has not taken all reasonable steps to ascertain the whereabouts of all records captured by the scope of the applicant's request. While the IPS has indicated its willingness to expand the search for records beyond the confines of its original decision, it is my view that the decision of the IPS should be annulled. The effect of my finding is that the IPS must consider the applicant's request afresh and make a new, first instance, decision in accordance with the provisions of the FOI Act. The applicant will have a right to an internal review and a review by this Office if he is not satisfied with the IPS's decision.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby annul the IPS's decision to refuse access to additional records relating to the applicant and direct it to conduct 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.