Dr A and University College Cork

JudgeElizabeth Dolan Senior Investigator
Judgment Date29 September 2015
Case OutcomeThe Senior Investigator affirmed the decision of UCC.
Record Number150129
CourtInformation Commission
RespondentUniversity College Cork
Whether UCC was justified in refusing to release further records to the applicant relating to the completion of his P3 form (relating to his application for promotion) on the grounds that no further records exist or could be found after all reasonable steps had been taken to locate any such records
Conducted in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act by Elizabeth Dolan, Senior Investigator, who is authorised by the Information Commissioner to conduct this review

I should state at the outset that the manner in which UCC processed the applicant's request in this case was most unsatisfactory. Among other things, it has resulted in UCC failing to adhere to the statutory time-frames set out in the Act for processing FOI requests.

The applicant submitted a request to UCC on 22 December, 2014 for copies of all correspondence between three named members of staff (the Manager, Head and Acting Head of the School of Economics, UCC) and all files, notes and records held by the same staff members, in relation to the completion of his P3 form in 2013 and 2014.

In the ordinary course, an FOI body must issue its decision on a request within four weeks of receipt. While I understand that the applicant's request was submitted by email on 22 December 2014, UCC has indicated that the request was received by the Information Compliance Officer on 5 January 2015. It appears that UCC was closed for Christmas recess from 20 December 2014 to 11 January 2015. It is my understanding that the applicant sent a number of emails querying the status of his request to UCC and receipt of his request was not acknowledged until 22 January 2015.

Under section 12(2), a public body is required to acknowledge receipt of the request within two weeks of receipt and the notification must include details of the provisions of section 19 and particulars of the rights of review under the Act. Section 19 provides that where a decision is not made within the prescribed time-frame, the request is deemed to have been refused. UCC does not appear to have complied with the provisions of section 12(2) in this case. Had it done so, the applicant would have been made aware of his right to apply for an internal review on the ground of a deemed refusal when the deadline for issuing a decision had passed.

Following further correspondence, UCC issued a decision to the applicant on 9 February 2015, five weeks after the Information Compliance Officer received the request, (and seven weeks since he initially submitted his request). UCC stated that access was being granted to records held by the Acting Head of the School of Economics. 31 records were released, three of which contained redactions relating to the personal information of third parties. The decision indicated that records held by the Manager and Head of the School of Economics had not been considered, as they had not yet been made available to the decision maker. The letter stated that, following their responses, a further letter would issue to the applicant.

On 24 February 2015, the applicant made an application for internal review of UCC's decision, wherein he complained about the various delays he had encountered in the processing of his request and the fact that he had still not received a decision in relation to the records held by the Manager and Head of the School.

The FOI Act provides that a decision on internal review shall be notified to a requestor no later than three weeks after receipt of the application. In this case UCC's internal review decision issued on 24 March 2015, some four weeks after it received the applicant's internal review application. It upheld its original decision to withhold some information from the records released on the basis of section 37(1) of the FOI Act (personal information). It varied its original decision in relation to Record 24 and claimed that the information withheld from release in that record was exempt under section 30(1)(b), as it asserted that release would adversely affect UCC's ability to manage ongoing staff issues. Its decision letter also apologised for the time taken to respond and stated that processing delays were partly due to "the Christmas holidays which considerably shortened the time available" to process his request. UCC's decision stated that the Manager had been and continued to be on extended leave and that the Head was no longer based in the Department of Economics. It also stated that as the FOI Act provided for a right of access to records held by UCC as an FOI body, the Acting...

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