Case number: OIC-111862-K7T9Q8

Whether the HSE was justified in refusing, under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act, the applicant’s request for details of her late brother’s burial location on the ground that no such records exist

 

OIC-111862-K7T9Q8  

 

Background

 

On 19 May 2021, the applicant submitted a request to the HSE for details of her late brother’s burial location who had died in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital (the Hospital). She sought relevant any plot markings and a burial map. On 22 June 2021, the HSE refused the request under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act on the ground that it does not hold the information sought. It said that the Pastoral Care Services and the Maternity Department both confirmed that the information is not held by the Hospital. The applicant sought an internal review of that decision, following which the HSE affirmed its refusal of the request. It explained that as there was no burial plot in the Hospital, no records were held by it relating to plot markings/maps or burial details. On 19 August 2021, the applicant sought a review by this Office of the Hospital’s decision.

 

During the course of the review, the Investigating Officer sought submissions from the HSE on searches undertaken to locate the relevant records and these submissions were provided to the applicant with an invitation for her to provide a submission of her own.  The applicant did not provide any response other than to indicate that she required a decision on the matter.

 

I have now completed my review in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act. In conducting my review, I have had regard to the correspondence between the applicant and the HSE as set out above and to the correspondence between this Office and both parties 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 whether the HSE was justified in refusing, under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act, the applicant’s request for details of her late brother’s burial location.

 

 

Analysis and Findings

 

Section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act provides that a request for access to a record may be refused if the record does not exist, or if a record cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain its whereabouts have been taken. A review of a public body's refusal of records under this provision assesses whether or not it is justified in claiming that it has taken all reasonable steps to locate all records of relevance to a request or that the requested records do not exist. Having regard to the information provided, this Office forms a view as to whether the decision-maker was justified in coming to the decision that the records sought do not exist or cannot be found. 

 

As I have outlined above, the HSE provided this Office with details of searches it undertook in an effort to locate relevant records and of its reasons for concluding that no relevant records exist. While I do not propose to repeat the details in full here, I confirm that I have had regard to them for the purpose of this review.

 

In summary, the HSE said that the Hospital does not have a burial ground/plot and therefore, no burial/plot markings or records are held by it. It added that there are no records of the deceased in relation to his birth, death or any medical file at the Hospital.  It also provided a list of locations it had thoroughly searched for this information and confirmed that no records existed or are retained. In addition, the Hospital confirmed it does not hold records or details relating to burial plots/sites or how bodies were/are disposed of by families/next of kin.  It said the burial of remains is a matter for the family/next of kin and their own wishes in that regard and when a person dies in the Hospital, funeral arrangements are a matter for the family/next of kin who consult with the funeral directors/church ministers/grave diggers to make their own arrangements.

 

Furthermore, the HSE said that the Hospital does not have a mass baby grave nor did it utilise a mass grave. It said that there is an Angel’s Plot in St Peter’s Cemetery but that this is under the control of St Peter’s Church and Our Lady of Lourdes in the Archdiocese of Armagh and is not a Hospital cemetery or Hospital burial plot/ground.  The Maternity & Pastoral Care staff also confirmed that the Hospital holds no records of burials in the cemetery. Ait added that although there may be occasional times where the hospital staff assist families by contacting undertakers, religious ministers and grave diggers, there is no requirement for staff to keep records in that regard, as burial arrangements are not a function of acute hospitals and are purely a matter and decision for the family concerned.  The HSE confirmed it carried out searches electronically using key words and searches were conducted of mortuary records at the Hospital along with canvassing relevant personnel, but this again yielded no records or results. 

 

Having considered the details of the searches undertaken by the HSE and of its explanation as to why no relevant records could be found, I am satisfied that it has carried out all reasonable steps in an effort to locate the records sought in this case. Accordingly, I find that the HSE was justified in refusing the applicant’s request for records on the ground that no such records exist or can be found.

 

 

Decision

 

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of the HSE to refuse, under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act, the applicant’s request for details of her late brother’s burial location.

 

 

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