Case number: OIC-60597-R4Q7D2

Whether DCU has complied with the requirements of section 9 of the Act by adding a letter of clarification to the applicant’s transcripts to indicate that they contain an incorrect spelling of her name, as opposed to altering the transcripts as sought by the applicant

21 October 2020

Background

The applicant graduated from St Patrick’s College in 2013. The College was incorporated into DCU in 2016. On 24 November 2019, the applicant submitted an application to DCU under section 9 of the FOI Act to have the spelling of her forename corrected on her degree, certificate and transcript. She attached copies of her passport and birth certificate as evidence of the correct spelling of her name.

On 6 December 2019, DCU issued its decision wherein it said that it is the custodian of records formerly held by the College. It said that while it can issue printed certified copies of those records, it has no legal right to alter them in any way. It said that it could, however, change the spelling of the applicant’s forename on her parchment as this was issued by DCU. It noted that DCU Registry had provided her with a letter to accompany her transcripts to indicate that documents with the incorrect spelling referred to the applicant.

The applicant sought an internal review of that decision on the same day. DCU issued its internal review decision on 21 December 2019. It stated that it could not amend the applicant’s transcripts in any way as they were created by the College and while the College was linked to DCU in the sense that DCU was the awarding body for degrees, the actual student records of exams were solely administered by the College. It said it was only the custodian of the records. It said, however, that it believed that the letter provided to accompany her transcripts satisfied the requirements of section 9 of the FOI Act. On 24 November 2019, the applicant sought a review by this Office of DCU’s decision. 

I have now completed my review in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act. In carrying out this review, I have had regard to the communications between DCU and the applicant as set out above and to the communications between this Office and both DCU and the applicant on the matter. I have decided to conclude this review by way of a formal, binding decision.

Scope of Review

It is not in dispute that the information at issue is personal information relating to the applicant and that her forename is misspelt in the records at issue. However, the parties disagree on the method of amendment of the records. While the applicant wants the records to be altered, DCU argues that this is not possible and that the letter it provided to accompany the records meets the requirements of section 9. Accordingly, this review is concerned solely with whether DCU has complied with the requirements of section 9 of the Act in response to the application for amendment.

Analysis and Findings

Section 9 of the FOI Act provides as follows:

9. (1) Where personal information in a record held by an FOI body is incomplete, incorrect or misleading, the head of the body shall, on application to him or her in that behalf, in writing or in such other form as may be determined, by the individual to whom the information relates, amend the record—

(a) by altering it so as to make the information complete or correct or not misleading, as may be appropriate,

(b) by adding to the record a statement specifying the respects in which the body is satisfied that the information is incomplete, incorrect or misleading, as may be appropriate, or

(c) by deleting the information from it.

(2) An application under subsection (1) shall, in so far as is practicable—

(a) specify the record concerned and the amendment required, and

(b) include appropriate information in support of the application.

(3) The head concerned shall, as soon as may be, but not later than 4 weeks, after the receipt by him or her of an application under subsection (1), decide whether to grant or refuse to grant the application and shall cause notice, in writing or in such other form as may be determined, of his or her decision and, if the decision is to grant it, of the manner of such grant to be given to the person concerned.

In its submissions to this Office, DCU said a formal agreement was reached between DCU and St. Patrick’s College that led to the full incorporation of the College into DCU with effect from 1st October 2016 and from that date, St. Patrick’s College ceased to exist as a separate legal entity. DCU became the custodians of student records and other records created by St. Patrick’s College prior to that date. They were transferred to DCU on an “as is” basis.

DCU argued that it cannot alter the transcripts (the applicant’s exam results document) as it was not the author of the document and is merely the custodian of the records created by St. Patrick’s College. It said the transcript record held is a pdf image of a paper document which, it argued, is essentially a photograph of the original document. It argued that the method of amendment sought (alteration) is akin to airbrushing a photo to replace original sections of the image. It said it understood that the pdfs were generated by the College’s system as digital documents and that to the best of its knowledge, there was not a hard copy. It said the system in question is no longer operational. It argued that the method of amendment sought is unwarranted as it has offered a reasonable alternative, namely a letter appended to the transcript with the correct spelling of the applicant’s name.

DCU added that it has noted the correct spelling of the applicant’s name on its electronic systems, and attached a letter to the file that would accompany the transcripts should they be required by anyone. It said that the letter has been made the front page of the student transcripts and is therefore inextricably linked to the transcripts. It said that there is no record of the applicant’s transcripts on its system which do not have the letter attached.

Among other things, the letter states that as holder of the College’s records, DCU can issue printed certified copies of transcripts on receipt of a request from a former student of the College. It explains that prior to transfer to DCU, the transcripts were reviewed in accordance with the College quality standards, confirmed as consistent with those originally issued, finalised, signed and dated by the Office of the Registrar of the College. It also explains that the records from the College refer to the applicant with an incorrect spelling of her forename and it indicates the correct spelling.

This Office takes the view that directing the amendment of, or deletion of, information from the records of an FOI body is a serious step and has particular implications for the evidential value of records. Interference with the integrity of a record of an FOI body is not something to be decided upon lightly. In determining the matter, consideration should also be given to possible future use of the record and to the effect of the form of amendment on the future usefulness of the record. Determining the appropriate form of amendment of a record is not always clear cut and requires careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case.

This Office considers that the addition of a statement specifying the respects in which the body is satisfied that the information is incomplete, incorrect or misleading may be appropriate where, for example, the medium on which the record is stored does not lend itself to alteration. In such cases, care must be taken that the additional record will maintain its link with the original record and that the composite record is the one used for any future consultation.

In my view, the record at issue is held in a format that does not lend itself readily to amendment by way of alteration or deletion of information in the record. Furthermore, given the circumstances of its creation and the circumstances surrounding the manner in which it came to be held by DCU, it seems to me that amendment by way of alteration or deletion of information in the record would affect the integrity of the record.

On the other hand, the letter of clarification that DCU has added to the record is clear and unambiguous and makes it clear to any reader of the letter that the spelling of the applicant’s forename on the transcript is incorrect and it provides the correct spelling. I am also satisfied that DCU has taken appropriate steps to ensure that the letter will maintain its link with the original record in the future as a single composite record. Furthermore, I am satisfied that the method of amendment applied should not adversely affect the future usefulness of the record.

In the circumstances, I find that by deciding to amend the record by way of attaching a letter of clarification to the record, DCU has complied with the requirements of section 9 in this case.

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2014, I hereby affirm the decision of DCU to grant the application for amendment of the applicant’s transcript record by attaching a letter of clarification to the record.

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