Case number: OIC-57170-Q0R6J6

Whether the RSA was justified, under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act, in refusing access to records relating to the applicant’s driving test which he sat in either 1964 or 1965 on the ground that records sought no longer exist

2 December 2019

Background

In a request dated 20 August 2019, the applicant sought access to records relating to his driving test which he sat in 1964 or 1965.  In a decision dated 29 August 2019, the RSA refused access to the records sought on the grounds that the records sought no longer exist. Following a request for internal review, the RSA affirmed its decision to refuse the request. On 24 September 2019, the applicant sought a review by this Office of the RSA’s decision.

During the course of this review, this Office provided the applicant with details of the searches undertaken by the RSA and of its reasons for finding that the records sought no longer exist. The applicant did not revert to this Office to indicate whether he wished to continue with his application in light of the search details provided.

Accordingly, I have decided to conclude my review by issuing a formal, binding decision. In carrying out my review, I have had regard to the comments made by the applicant in correspondence with this Office and to the submissions made by the FOI body in support of its decision.

Scope of the Review

The scope of this review is concerned solely with whether the RSA was justified, under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act, in refusing the applicant’s request for access to records relating to a driving test he sat in 1964/1965 on the ground that the records sought do not exist.

Preliminary Matter

As outlined to the applicant, 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. Furthermore, as explained to the applicant this Office cannot advise the applicant on issues relating to exchanging a driving licences issued by another county and this review relates solely to his FOI request.

Analysis and Findings

Section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act provides that a request for access to records may be refused if the records sought either do not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken. The Commissioner’s role in such cases is to review the decision of the FOI body and to decide whether the decision was justified. This Office must have regard to the evidence available to the decision maker in arriving at his/her decision. The evidence in “search” cases generally consists of the steps actually taken to search for records along with miscellaneous other information about the record management practices of the FOI body, insofar as those practices relate to the records in question.

In submissions to this Office, the RSA provided details of searches conducted and the reasons why the RSA would not hold the records sought by the applicant. As this Office has already provided the applicant with those details, I do not propose to repeat them in full here. In short, the RSA submitted that when an individual passes his/her driving test a Certificate of Competency is issued, which the individual then presents to the licensing authority in exchange for a driving licence. At the time the applicant sat his test, the licensing authority was the Motor Taxation Office of the relevant Local Authority. Such certificates were retained only for the period of validity before being destroyed. Regulations introduced in 1964 increased the validity period of Certificates of Competency from six months to two years.

The RSA stated that in 1990/1991 the driver testing system was computerised. During the process only certificates that were valid at the time or otherwise deemed live were entered onto the system, i.e. historical records were not entered onto the system. The RSA said that when the functions of the issuing authority transferred from the Department of Transport to the RSA hardcopy records similar to those sought were not transferred to it.

Having considered the details of the searches undertaken and explanations by the RSA as to why it would not hold the records sought, I am satisfied that the RSA has justified its decision to refuse the applicant’s request. I find, therefore, that the RSA was justified in refusing access to records on the ground that no relevant records exist.

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of the RSA to refuse access to the applicant’s request for records relating to his driving test sat in 1964/1965 on the ground that the records sought do not exist.

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.

 

 

Senior Investigator

Stephen Rafferty