Case number: 190033
14 June 2019
On 11 June 2018 the applicant submitted a request to TCD under section 10 of the FOI Act for a statement of reasons for its decision to exclude him from an occupational therapy degree programme. On 9 July 2018 TCD provided the applicant with a statement of the reasons for the exclusion. On 22 July 2018, the applicant sought an internal review of that decision on the ground that he was not satisfied with the level of detail given. He also sought access to all records held by TCD on the matter. TCD issued its internal review decision on 13 August 2018 wherein it affirmed its original decision in relation to the statement of reasons given and provided the applicant with a number of relevant records. On 17 January 2019, the applicant sought a review by this Office.
During the course of the review and following engagements with this Office, TCD issued a revised statement of reasons to the applicant. Following receipt of the revised statement the applicant provided a further submission to this Office and having regard to that submission I consider it appropriate to conclude this review by way of a formal, binding decision.
In conducting my review I have had regard to the correspondence between TCD and the applicant as outlined above and to correspondence between this Office and both the TCD and the applicant on the matter.
This review is concerned solely with the question of whether the revised statement of reasons issued by TCD in relation to its decision to exclude the applicant from the course in question is adequate for purposes of section 10 of the FOI Act.
I understand that the applicant made a separate request to TCD for records. If the applicant is unhappy with the decision he received on that request he may wish to apply to TCD for an internal review of that decision in the first instance.
It appears from application for review that the applicant submitted to this Office on 1 February 2019 that he may have been of the view that this Office might be in a position to review that substantive decision to exclude him from the course in question. This is not the case. 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. Neither does this Office's remit extend to examining the appropriateness or otherwise of the particular act(s) or decision(s) for which statements of reasons are sought. If the applicant is dissatisfied with the actions of TCD in connection with his exclusion, he may wish to contact the Office of the Ombudsman to determine if that Office might be in a position to examine his complaint.
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. The “act” for which a statement of reasons was sought in this case was the decision of TCD to exclude the applicant form the course in question.
It is not in dispute that the applicant was entitled to a statement of reasons for the decision to exclude him. Indeed TCD provided him with such a statement. The question I must consider, therefore, is whether the statement provided is adequate for the purposes of compliance with section 10. This Office takes the view that a statement of reasons 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. However, it does not necessarily have to contain a detailed clarification of all issues identified by an applicant as relevant to a particular act or decision, nor is there a requirement that it be in a particular form.
The applicant, in his original request, highlighted that he was seeking details regarding the evidence taken into account by TCD in relation to its decision to exclude him, in particular his medical certificate, withdrawal from practice education, and disability status.
In the revised statement issued, TCD stated that the decision to exclude the applicant was, in essence, based on the Regulations Section of the Occupational Therapy Undergraduate Handbook for the Academic Year 2016/2017 (the Handbook), which states that a fail in two placements will result in exclusion from the course, and the College Regulations, which state that it is not permissible to attempt a placement for a third time. It summarised that the applicant had failed two placements which are a mandatory component of the course in question. For the sake of clarity, I wish to note that there appears to be a referencing error in the revised statement to the applicant, whereby a quotation used is seemingly mistakenly attributed to the Handbook rather than the College Regulations.
TCD also included additional supplementary information concerning its engagements with the applicant, including his off-books request and disability status. TCD outlined that the decision to fail the applicant's second placement was made prior to his medical withdrawal request being submitted, noting that the applicant had attended a meeting on 4 September 2017, where he was deemed to have failed his second placement and that, subsequently, also on the 4 September 2017, he contacted his tutor and provided a doctor's certificate of the same date requesting that he be placed off-books from the earlier date of 1 September 2017. TCD went on to explain that on 11 September 2017, the formal decision to exclude the applicant was made at the Discipline of Occupational Therapy Supplemental Court of Examiners Meeting (the Court of Examiners Meeting) and was based on his failure of two placements - his disability support status was not a factor. It also stated that, the applicant's off-books request was not processed at the time of the Court of Examiners Meeting and, as such, that decision stood until a final decision was made by the Senior Lecturer regarding his off-books request. It noted that on 16 January 2018, the Senior Lecturer made a final decision to deny the off-books request on the basis that the applicant had failed two placements and a third attempt was not permitted.
On reviewing the revised statement of reasons issued by TCD, the applicant highlighted his dissatisfaction with the actions of TCD in connection with his exclusion. It is important restate that this Office has no role in considering the appropriateness or otherwise, of the decision taken by TCD to exclude the applicant or of the procedures adopted in that process. It is sufficient, for the purposes of section 10, for TCD to explain why it acted as it did.
Therefore, notwithstanding the concerns expressed by the applicant in his recent submission, I am satisfied that the revised statement provided by TCD to the applicant explains adequately, in a clear and intelligible manner why he was excluded. I find, therefore, that TCD has complied with the requirements of section 10 in this case.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of TCD on the ground that it has provided the applicant with an adequate statement of the reasons as to why he was excluded from a course at the college.
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.