Case number: OIC-97290-V2G8H5

Whether the Courts Service was justified in its decision to refuse access to records concerning the applicant held by the Office of Wards of Court under section 42(a)(i) on the ground that the Act does not apply to the records sought

20 November 2020

Background

This case has its background in wardship matters concerning the applicant’s late mother. The High Court may provide wardship to persons who, whether by reason of mental capacity or infancy, are deemed by the Court to be incapable of managing their affairs for themselves. The purpose of wardship of the Court is to protect such persons and their property.

The Office of Wards of Court is responsible for, among other things, the supervision of the affairs of persons taken into the wardship of the High Court, and supervising the activities of the persons (known as committees or, in the case of minors, guardians) who are given responsibility for the day to day management of a ward's affairs.

According to the applicant, he was a member of his mother’s committee until the end of March 2020. It is my understanding that the General Solicitor for Minors and Wards of Court is now acting as his mother’s committee.

On 7 July 2020, the applicant made a request to the Courts Service for access to all records submitted to the wards of court service from the period 1 March 2020 to 30 April 2020 relating to him and that contain his personal information.  On 10 July 2020, the Courts Service refused the request under section 42(a)(i) of the FOI Act on the ground that the Act does not apply to records held by the courts and that relate to a court or to proceedings in a court.  It also provided the applicant with information on how to apply for access to court records outside of the FOI process.

On 17 July 2020, the applicant sought an internal review of that decision, following which the Courts Service affirmed its original decision.  It also provided a more detailed explanation of the procedure in respect of making an application for the records outside of the FOI process.  It noted that a notice of motion and affidavit would need to be filed in the Office of Wards of Court.  It stated that copies of the documents once issued and returned would have to be served on the General Solicitor for Minors and Wards of Court, acting as his mother’s Committee.  The applicant sought a review by this Office of the Courts Service’s decision on 22 September 2020. 

I have now completed my review in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act.  In conducting the review, I have had regard to the correspondence between the Courts Service and the applicant as outlined above and to correspondence between this Office and both the Courts Service and the applicant on the matter.

Scope of Review

The scope of this review is concerned solely with whether the Courts Service was justified in refusing, under section 42(a)(i) of the FOI Act, access to records concerning the applicant held by the Office of Wards of Court.

Analysis and Findings

Section 42(a)(i) of the FOI Act provides that, subject to two exceptions, the Act does not apply to records held by the courts that relate to a court or to proceedings in a court. The first exception concerns records relating to proceedings in a court held in public, where the records were not created by the court and whose disclosure to the general public is not prohibited by the court. The second exception concerns records relating to the general administration of the courts or the offices of the courts.

The records sought in this case relate to the wardship of the applicant’s mother and are held by the Office of Wards of Court. In its submissions to this Office, the Courts Service said that the records at issue are held on a court file. It explained that the Office of Wards of Court is attached to the President of the High Court and, subject to the direction of the President of the High Court, deals with applications for wardship and is responsible for the supervision of the affairs of persons taken into wardship under the direction of the High Court. As such, I am satisfied that the records at issue are held by the courts and that they relate to a court or to proceedings in a court.

The Courts Service also said that while the declaration proceedings relating to the wardship of applicant’s mother were held in open court, all subsequent matters concerning her wardship were dealt with in chambers i.e. in private. I find, therefore that the first exception to section 42(a)(i) as outlined above does not apply. I am also satisfied that the records sought do not relate to the general administration of the courts or the offices of the courts and that the second exception does not apply. I find, therefore, that section 42(a)(i) applies to the records at issue and that the Act does not therefore, apply to those records.

I note that in his application for review, the applicant alleged that on foot of a document or documents received, a decision was taken to remove him from the ward of court committee of his mother without prior consultation. He argued that he has a right to any information held relating to him and the right to have it corrected, if necessary. Apart from the fact that any reasons a requester has for making a request must be disregarded (section 13(4) refers), the effect of section 42(a)(i) applying to a record is that the Act does not apply to the record and as such, no right of access exists.

Accordingly, I find that the Courts Service was justified in its decision to refuse access to the records sought under section 42(a)(i) of the FOI Act.

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of the Courts Service to refuse access records concerning the applicant held by the Office of Wards of Court under section 42(a)(i) on the ground that the Act does not apply to the records sought.

Right of Appeal

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.

 

Stephen Rafferty

Senior Investigator