Case number: 180307

Whether the Council was justified in refusing access to further records relating to a valuation report from 2006 under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act  

 

27/11/2018

 

Background


On 19 April 2018 the applicant submitted a request to the Council for the documentation upon which a 2006 valuation of a specified derelict property in Dublin City was based. On 22 May 2018, the Council refused the request under section 30 of the FOI Act. The applicant sought an internal review of that decision, following which the Council affirmed its original decision. On 3 August 2018, the applicant sought a review by this Office of the Council’s decision. 

During the course of the review, the Council decided to release a copy of the 2006 Valuation Report to the applicant. Following further exchanges of correspondence with this Office, the Council also released copies of the material cited in the valuation report and all remaining records held on the valuer's file. Subsequently, Ms Hannon of this Office informed the applicant of her view that all relevant records had been released and that the Council was justified in refusing the applicant's request for further relevant records under section 15 (1)(a) of the FOI Act.  She invited the applicant to withdraw his application for review on the basis that all relevant records had been released to him or, alternatively, to make a further submission on the matter.

In a further submission to this Office, the applicant indicated that he was not satisfied that all relevant records had been released. I have therefore decided to conclude this review by way of a formal, binding decision. In conducting this review I have had regard to the Council’s correspondence with the applicant on the matter and to the correspondence between this Office and both the applicant and the Council on the matter. 


Scope of the Review

 

This review is concerned solely with whether the Council was justified in refusing access to further records relating to a valuation of the specified property in 2006 under section 15(1)(a) on the ground that no further relevant records exist or can be found. 


Analysis and Findings
 


Section 15(1)(a) provides that access to records may be refused if the records concerned do not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken. The role of the Commissioner in a case involving section 15(1)(a) is to decide whether the decision maker has had regard to all of the relevant evidence and, if so, whether the decision maker was justified in coming to the decision that the records do not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken. The evidence in such cases includes the steps actually taken to search for records. It also comprises miscellaneous other evidence about the record management practices of the FOI body, on the basis of which the decision maker concluded that the steps taken to search for records were reasonable. 

The applicant stated that had expected to see other records such as memos, correspondence and attendances relating to the property. In submissions to this Office, the Council provided details of the searches conducted to locate the records sought by the applicant. It stated that the Valuation Report is a stand-alone report demonstrating how the market valuation was determined and the methodology employed. It stated that it consulted with the Valuer, a qualified professional valuer, who prepared the Valuation Report and it reviewed the Valuer's file. It said there were five records on file in addition to the Valuation Report, three of which were cited in the Valuation Report along with photographs and maps. It said these records have now been released to the applicant. It said all the information utilised in the determination of the market value of the property is contained within the Valuation Report. It said there are no other records held on file. 

It is important to note that the applicant's request was for records upon which the valuation was based, and did not include other ancillary documents. Nevertheless, the Council's position is that all records held on the Valuer's file have been released. Having considered the Council's submission, the contents of the valuation report, and the contents of the additional records released, I am satisfied that the Council 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 the Council was justified in refusing access to any further records on the ground that no further relevant records exist or can be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken. 


Decision

 

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of the Council. I find it was justified in its decision to refuse access to further records relevant to the applicant's request under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act. 


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