C company, c/o W Solicitors and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (the Department)

CourtInformation Commission
Judgment Date08 January 2020
Case OutcomeThe Senior Investigator varied the decision of the Department. He found that section 29(1) applied to records relating to the 2014 licence renewal application. He found that section 29(1) did not apply to records relating to the 2006 renewal application and directed their release
Record NumberOIC-53267-L3Y2T2
RespondentDepartment of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Whether the Department was justified in refusing, under section 29(1) of the Act, the applicant's request for records relating to applications it submitted to the Department in 2006 and 2014 for an aquaculture licence

8 January 2020

On 13 September 2018, a firm of solicitors sought access to records relating to an application made by or on behalf of two specified business names on 17 November 2006 for the renewal of a specified Fish Culture Licence and a specified Foreshore Licence (collectively the Licence) and all records relating to the application made in December 2014 for the renewal of the Licence. Following engagement with the Department, the request was amended to one for all records relating to the receipt of, consideration by the Department, and progression of the applications for renewal of the Licence in the relevant years.
In its decision of 9 November 2018, the Department identified 239 records as relevant to the request, granting access to ten records and refusing access to all other records on the basis that sections 29, 36 and 37 of the FOI Act applied. The firm sought an internal review of that decision on 19 November 2018, following which the Department affirmed its decision. On 20 December 2018, the firm sought a review by this Office of the Department's decision, in which it confirmed that it had submitted the request on behalf of a named company. For the purposes of the review, therefore, I have treated that company as the applicant for review. All references to engagements with the applicant in this decision should be read as including engagements with the firm of solicitors representing the applicant.
In conducting this review, I have had regard to the correspondence between the applicant and the Department and to the correspondence between this Office and both the applicant and the Department on the matter. I have also had regard to the nature and contents of the relevant records. I have decided to conclude the review by issuing a formal, binding decision on the matter. In referring to the records at issue, I have adopted the numbering system used by the Department in the schedule of records it prepared when processing the request.
Scope of the Review
The applicant in this case is essentially the Licensee /Licence Applicant. As such, it was apparent to this Office’s Investigator, Ms Lynch, that the applicant may already be in possession of many of the records originally identified by the Department as coming within the scope of the request. Following an initial examination of the file and records, Ms Lynch wrote to the applicant and asked it to consider reducing the scope of the review by removing records which it could identify as ones it already had. Following this exercise, the applicant reduced the scope of the review to 104 records.
Subsequently, Ms Lynch informed the applicant of certain records included in the 104 records that were duplicates of records which the applicant had already identified as having and she sought its agreement to remove those duplicates form the scope of the review. The applicant did not consent to that proposal.
Of the 104 records at issue, I am satisfied that record 18 and parts of 41 and 43 are outside the scope of the review as they do not relate to the relevant licence renewal applications. Accordingly, this review is concerned solely with whether the Department was justified in...

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