Case number: OIC-60343-C2C0X6
10 February 2020
In a request dated 24 April 2019, the applicant submitted a request to DCU for the tree maintenance reports for the years 2017 and 2018 for the grounds of St. Patrick’s College Campus DCU. In its decision dated 23 May 2019, DCU stated that no records existed. On 29 May 2019, the applicant sought an internal review of that decision, following which DCU affirmed the decision to refuse access to tree maintenance reports on the ground that no such records exist. On 17 December 2019, the applicant sought a review by this Office of DCU’s decision.
During the course of the review, Ms Greenalgh of this Office provided the applicant with details of DCU’s submissions regarding the searches it had conducted in response to her request and informed the applicant of her view that DCU was justified in refusing the request on the ground that the records sought did not exist. She invited the applicant to make a further submission on the matter. In response, the applicant said she did not wish to withdraw her application for review.
I have now completed my review in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act. I have decided to conclude this review by way of a formal, binding decision. In conducting the review, I have had regard to the correspondence between the applicant and DCU and to the communications between this Office and both DCU and the applicant on the matter.
This review is concerned solely with whether DCU was justified in refusing access to tree maintenance reports for the years 2017 and 2018 for the grounds of St. Patrick’s College Campus DCU under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act on the ground that the records sought do not exist.
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 the 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 its submissions to this Office, DCU provided details of the steps it took to locate the records. As this Office has already provided the applicant with those details, I do not propose to repeat them in full here. In summary, DCU outlined that it had passed the request on to Head of Estates, who in turn forwarded the request to various staff in Estates where he asked for “copies of any tree cutting/maintenance/pruning/topping reports or invoices for St. Patrick’s Campus for 2017 and 2018”. One quotation relating to tree pruning was received but this was deemed outside the scope of the request as the applicant had specifically asked for maintenance reports. DCU said that ground maintenance services for St. Patrick’s Campus was contracted out during the relevant period. It said that the contract for these services specifically excluded tree maintenance.
Having considered DCU’s description of the searches undertaken and its explanation as to why no records exist, I am satisfied that DCU has carried out all reasonable steps in an effort to ascertain the whereabouts of all relevant records coming within the scope of the request. I find, therefore that DCU was justified in refusing access to tree maintenance reports on the ground that no relevant records exist or can be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken.
I hereby affirm DCU’s decision to refuse access to the tree maintenance reports sought by the applicant under Section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act on the grounds that no records exist or can be found.
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 affect 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.