Mr S and Department of Justice and Equality

CourtInformation Commission
JudgeSenior Investigator
Judgment Date21 May 2020
Case OutcomeThe Senior Investigator affirmed the Department?s decision.
Record NumberOIC-61293-W4P6M8
RespondentDepartment of Justice and Equality
Whether the Department was justified, under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act, in refusing access to records from 1993 and 1994 relating to the applicant that were signed under the official seal of the Minister for Justice on the ground that it does not hold the records sought

21 May 2020

Background

In a request dated 16 September 2019, the applicant sought access to all Ministerial orders, records and documents, dated 1993 and 1994, signed under the official seal of the Minister for Justice with his name on them. In a decision dated 19 December 2019, the Department refused the applicant’s request under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act on the ground that no relevant records could be found.

The applicant sought an internal review of the Department’s decision. In its internal review decision dated 21 January 2020, the Department explained that it located a “Seal Book” which contains a record of each time the Minister’s seal is used, the record comprising the type of instruction sealed and the person’s name. It said the book contained details relating to the applicant’s name but that it was not possible to determine if the information referred to the applicant or to an individual of the same name. It refused the request under section 37 of the Act.

On 23 January 2020, the applicant sought a review by this Office of the Department’s decision. During the course of the review, the Department informed this Office that while it had located a Seal Book for the relevant period, it does not hold copies of the records signed under the seal. Mr Crowley of this Office wrote to the applicant and informed him of the Department’s position and of his view that the Department was justified in refusing the request on the ground that it does not hold the records sought. He offered the applicant an opportunity to withdraw his request or to make a submission in response to his views. While the applicant indicated that he did not wish to withdraw his application for review, he made no submission in response to Mr Crowley’s views.

In the circumstances, I have decided to conclude my review by issuing a binding decision in this case. In carrying out my review, I have had regard to the correspondence between the Department and the applicant as described above and to the correspondence between this Office and both the applicant and the Department on the matter.

Scope of Review

This review is concerned solely with whether the Department was justified, under section 15(1)(a) of the Act...

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