Case number: OIC-62279-H0T3D6

Whether AGS was justified in refusing access to the total number of assaults on its members during September 2018 on the ground that the FOI Act does not apply in respect of the information sought, pursuant to Schedule 1, Part 1(n) of the Act

10 June 2020

Background

On 1 October 2019, the applicant organisation requested the total number of members of AGS assaulted in the course of their duty in the period 1 September 2018 to 30 September 2018. The applicant clarified that it was seeking data in respect of all assaults and not just those which resulted in a reported occupational injury.

AGS issued its decision on the request on 14 October 2019, in which it said it had decided to part-grant the request. It explained that only administrative records relating to human resources, finance or procurement were considered in fulfilling the request, pursuant to Schedule 1, Part 1(n) of the FOI Act. It provided details, obtained from its Health and Safety Section, of the number of members injured as a result of an assault in the course of duty but only for those that resulted in a reported occupational injury.

AGS added that its Health and Safety Section supply details of the number of occupational injuries that have been reported to it and that in the event that the assault is not recorded on the Garda Employee Management System (GEMS), it is considered to have not been reported. It decided, therefore, to refuse access to the total number of assaults under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act on the ground that the information was not available.

On 5 November 2019, the applicant sought an internal review of that decision. It stated that when members are assaulted in the course of their duty and report the incident either via a colleague, supervisor, or directly themselves to the Garda Information Services Centre, a PULSE record is created. It argued that such records are easily and readily accessible from the PULSE system.

On 27 November 2019, AGS issued its internal review decision, in which it said it had decided to affirm the original decision. It said there is no PULSE incident category for assault specifically on a member of AGS. It said there is an incident category type of "Assault/Obstruct/Resist Arrest-Peace Officer.” It said this incident type refers to offences where a Garda officer acting in the course of his/her duty is assaulted or is threatened with assault. It said it also includes incidents where a person resists a lawful arrest or where a person obstructs a Garda officer in the execution of their duty. It said this incident type would therefore not relate exclusively to an assault on a member of AGS. Nevertheless, it provided details of the number of incidents recorded under the relevant category type during September 2018.

On 12 February 2020, the applicant sought a review by this Office of the decision of AGS to refuse access to the total number of assaults. Amongst other things, it argued that the PULSE system allows for the capture of a free text narrative which would allow for the identification of the information sought.

During the course of the review, AGS made submissions to this Office wherein it argued that the information requested was not subject to the FOI Act, as per Schedule 1, Part 1(n). Ms Whelan of this Office informed the applicant of her view that the information requested is excluded from the FOI Act pursuant to Schedule 1, Part 1(n) and invited the applicant to make a submission in the matter. The applicant did so on 23 March 2020.

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

Scope of the Review

This review is concerned solely with whether AGS was justified in refusing access to the total number of assaults on its members during September 2018 on the ground that the FOI Act does not apply in respect of the information sought, pursuant to Schedule 1, Part 1(n) of the Act.

Analysis and findings

Section 6(2) of the FOI Act provides that an entity specified in Schedule 1, Part 1 of the Act shall, subject to the provisions of that Part, be a public body for the purposes of the Act. Schedule 1, Part 1 contains details of bodies that are partially included for the purposes of the Act and also details of the certain specified records that are excluded. If the records sought come within the description of the exclusions in Part 1, then the Act does not apply and no right of access exists to such records held by the body.

Schedule 1, Part 1(n) provides that AGS is not a public body for the purposes of the FOI Act other than in relation to administrative records relating to human resources, or finance or procurement matters. In other words, the only records held by AGS that are subject to the FOI Act are those that relate to administrative matters concerning human resources, finance, or procurement. In accordance with Part 1(n), all other records held by AGS are excluded.

In its submissions to this Office, AGS said the PULSE system is used for the recording of all incidences dealt with by its members on a daily basis. It said reports of assaults on members captured on the system are captured for operational policing purposes to capture incidences relating to crime investigation and intelligence collation, and as warnings relating to violent individuals. It argued that such information does not constitute an administrative record relating to human resources, finance or procurement as set out in Part 1(n) of the FOI Act. It said that, in contrast, it provided information on occupational injuries resulting from assaults as captured in the GEMS system as this information is reported to and held by the Health and Safety Section of AGS. It said the records held on GEMS are clearly identifiable as HR records as they relate to the personal impact of assaults on members.

The applicant, on the other hand, argued that although information is recorded in the PULSE system for operational purposes, data from the system is often referred to and relied upon for administrative purposes. It argued that PULSE data is utilised in a number of ways, including:

  • risk assessment in creating warnings in relation to violent individuals;
  • allocation and deployment of personnel based on crime trends;
  • by the Garda Inspectorate in compiling inspection reports; and
  • in the decision making process on the matter of whether or not to close stations.

The applicant argued that there is considerable overlap in the utilisation of PULSE data between operational policing matters and administrative decisions arrived at by human resources and senior management within AGS. It argued that it is inevitable, given the nature of the business and activity in which AGS is concerned, that such records would be utilised for decisions relating to the “processes of running/managing a business or organisation”.

In response, AGS argued that while PULSE data may be used for certain administrative purposes, including for strategic planning purposes, the overall function of the system is for operational purposes. It argued that the matters identified by the applicant do not relate to assaults sustained by members of AGS and that they specifically refer to operational matters and not to administrative matters relating to human resources, finance, and procurement.

The question I must consider is not whether information held on the PULSE system can be used for administrative purposes. Instead, the question I must consider whether the information held on the system relating to assaults on members of AGS can reasonably be considered to be information relating to administrative matters concerning human resources, finance, or procurement.

Having regard to the explanation provided by AGS of the reasons for recording such information on the PULSE system and having regard to the separate procedures it has in place for the recording of information on occupational injuries resulting from assaults, I am satisfied that it cannot. In my view, it is information relating to operational matters.

Accordingly, I find that AGS was justified in its decision to refuse access to the total number of assaults on its members during September 2018 on the ground that the FOI Act does not apply in respect of the information sought, pursuant to Schedule 1, Part 1(n) of the Act.

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of AGS in this case.

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