Whether the Defence Forces has complied with the requirements of section 10 of the Act in its response to the application made by the applicant for a statement of reasons regarding why the applicant was not allowed go home sick before consulting a named Comdt. and where in Defence Forces Regulations this decision is based
3 November 2021
On 3 November 2020, the applicant sought from the Defence Forces a statement of “reasons for the decision of [a named Comdt.] to deny [him] the regulatory entitlement of going sick at home”. He also sought details of the Regulation on which the decision was based. He referred to an email from the Comdt. wherein the Comdt. indicated that he had informed the applicant that until further notice, he may not go sick at home and must discus any disposal that he receives from any other doctor with the Comdt. before it will be granted, and that this was in line with Regulation DFR A12 Paragraph 31.
On 18 November 2020, the Defence Forces informed the applicant that it had decided to grant the application. It provided a letter from the named Comdt. In which the Comdt. Indicated that he was required to come in for medical officer review in accordance with Regulation DFR A12 paragraph 30, part 2. The relevant part of the Regulation was cited.
On 24 November 2020, the applicant sought an internal review of that decision on the ground that he was not given the answer to the question he had asked. He suggested that he had been given a different answer. On 7 December 2020, the Defence Forces affirmed its decision and said it considered the information granted to be accurate. On 14 December 2020, 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, and to the communications between this Office and both the applicant and the Defence Forces on the matter. I have decided to conclude this review by way of a formal, binding decision.
Scope of Review
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 why the applicant was not allowed go sick at home.
Analysis and Findings
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 as well as a statement of any findings on any material issues of fact made for the purposes of that act. Section 10(5) provides that a person has a material interest in a matter affected by an act of an FOI body or to which it relates if the consequence or effect of the act may be to confer on or withhold from the person a benefit without also conferring it on or withholding it from persons in general or a class of persons which is of significant size having regard to all the circumstances and of which the person is a member.
This Office considers that a statement should be intelligible and adequate having regard to the particular circumstances of the case. It 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.
It seems to me that the key issue in this case is whether the Defence Forces has adequately explained why it decided that the applicant must attend a medical consultation before going sick at home. It is apparent from the submissions of the parties to this Office that the background to the application for a statement of reasons is that the applicant had exceeded 28 days of sick leave in the period in question and when he sought to take additional sick leave at home, he was informed that until further notice, he may not go sick at home and must discuss any disposal that he receives from any other doctor with the Comdt. before it will be granted. In the statement of reasons provided, the relevant Comdt. explained that he was asked to come in for medical officer review pursuant to DFR A12 paragraph 30, part 2, namely;
“Sick leave may not normally exceed 28 days’ duration in any one period of twelve months, and where an extension beyond this limit is considered necessary the approval of the Senior Medical Officer/OIC Clinical Delivery/OIC Logs Base Hospital as appropriate must be obtained”.
During the course of the review, the Investigating Officer suggested to the applicant that the Defence Forces had adequately explained why it took the decision in question, namely that it did so in accordance with Regulation DFR A12. In response, the applicant argued that the decision was not supported by any Regulation. He suggested, in fact, that it is a Regulation that he can, indeed, go sick at home.
It seems to me that the applicant is not arguing that he has not been informed why the Defence Forces acted as it did. Rather he appears to be challenging the appropriateness of the reason given. He is essentially arguing that the Defence Forces is wrong to suggest that it acted in accordance with the Regulations.
Section 10 of the Act is not concerned with the appropriateness, or otherwise, of administrative actions taken by public bodies, nor does this Office have a role in examining such matters. Section 10 is concerned with the provision of reasons for the act or decision and any findings on any material issues of fact made for the purposes of the act or decision concerned. If the body explains why it acted as it did, this Office has no further role in the matter. While the applicant may not be satisfied with the statement he received, I am satisfied that the Defence Forces has adequately explained why he was not allowed go home sick. Whether that decision was or was not in accordance with the relevant Regulation is not a matter for this Office to determine.
In conclusion, therefore, I find that the Defence Forces has complied with the requirements of section 10 in relation to the application for the statement of reasons sought.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of the Defence Forces in this case. I find that it has complied with the provisions of section 10 of the Act in response to the application for the statement of reasons 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.
3 November 2021