Mr X and Office of the Revenue Commissioners

CourtInformation Commission
JudgeSenior Investigator
Judgment Date18 May 2021
Case OutcomeThe Senior Investigator affirmed Revenue's decision.
RespondentOffice of the Revenue Commissioners
Record NumberOIC-67725-S4Q4S3
Whether Revenue was justified in refusing access to information and records concerning VRT enforcement under sections 15(1)(a), 29(1)(a), 30(1)(a)/(b)/(c) and/or 32(1)(a)/(c)/(x) of the FOI Act

18 May 2021

Background

In an FOI request of 16 July 2019, the applicant sought access to specified information in relation to VRT stops, vehicles seized, complaints of misconduct in relation to VRT collection, the investigation of such complaints, prosecution of Revenue Officers in relation to VRT collection and internal or external reviews or audits of Revenue’s VRT collection. The request was detailed and ran to nine pages.

Revenue informed the applicant that his request could be refused under section 15(1)(c) of the Act. This is a provision that may be applied (provided certain requirements have been complied with by the FOI body) to requests that, if processed, would cause a substantial and unreasonable interference with or disruption to an FOI body's work. Revenue stated that to answer all parts of the original request would involve significant search, retrieval and copying (SRC) of files, which would result in the charging of a considerable fee in relation to question 4 alone. Revenue offered to assist the applicant to modify his request so that it would no longer fall under section 15(1)(c) and to limit the SRC fees applicable.

In subsequent correspondence with Revenue, the applicant agreed to modify his request. He stated “I would be grateful to proceed with questions 6 and 8-14. In relation to question 6, I would like to limit that to official complaints received under complaints and review procedures. In relation to question 12, I would like to limit that to 2016 to date. In relation to questions 1-5 and 7, I would be grateful for the opportunity to try and reframe/narrow them with you and then submit a separate FOI request.”

In its original decision of 13 August 2019, Revenue granted access to eight records. It refused to grant access to further information and/or records on the basis of various provisions of the FOI Act, including section 15(1)(a). The applicant requested an internal review of Revenue's decision on 5 September 2019. He sought clarifications and further information in relation to questions 6, 8, 9, 12 and 13. In its internal review decision of 25 September 2019, Revenue granted access to one additional record and it refused access in full or in part to four additional records under sections 30 (functions and negotiations of FOI bodies) and 32 (law enforcement and public safety) of the FOI Act. Revenue also sought to rely on section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act in its internal review decision. On 16 October 2019, the applicant sought a review by this Office of certain aspects of Revenue's refusal to fully grant access to information and/or records relevant to his request.

I have decided to conclude this review by way of a formal binding decision. In conducting this review, I have had regard to correspondence between the applicant and Revenue, to correspondence between the applicant and this Office, to correspondence between Revenue and this Office, to the contents of the records at issue and to the provisions of the FOI Act.

Scope of the Review

The applicant’s FOI request contains 14 questions with individual parts which are numbered sequentially as questions 6, 6.1, 6.2 etc. In his internal review request, the applicant introduced a new numbering sequence in which he numbered questions 6, 6(a), 6(b) etc. He also used this new numbering sequence in his application to this Office. A number of the questions that the applicant asked at internal review stage sought additional information, which the applicant had not sought in his original request. This Office does not have jurisdiction to consider the release of any records/information that the applicant did not seek in his FOI request, or to review Revenue’s decision in relation to particular records, which were not included in the application for review to this Office.

The applicant sought a review by this Office of Revenue’s decision on four grounds:

  1. Revenue’s estimate of the time and cost to answer question 4 was misleading;
  2. Revenue has not satisfied the applicable test for establishing the existence of “prejudice” or “impair” grounds for its refusal to answer questions 6(e), 8(a)/(b), and 9(a)/(c)/(d);
  3. In the alternative, the public interest overrides the “prejudice” or “impair” grounds relied on by the Revenue in relation to questions 6(e), 8(a)/(b), and 9(a)/(c)/(d);
  4. Revenue’s search for records which relate to Question 12 has been inadequate.

The applicant submits that Revenue’s estimate of the time and cost to answer question 4 should be considered in this review. He contends that “it would plainly run contrary to the purpose of section 22(1)(d) of the Act, if an applicant was required to first accept and incur potentially false and/or inflated costs before being able to avail of a review pursuant to s.22(1)(d) of the FOI body’s decision to charge a fee.”

It was open to the applicant to decide not to modify his request and to seek an internal review of Revenue’s decision in relation to the search and retrieval fee concerning question 4 of his request. The applicant was informed of this option by Revenue. If the applicant was unsatisfied with Revenue’s internal review decision, he could have sought a review by this Office under section 22 of the Act. Instead the applicant chose to modify his request, as per the email he sent to Revenue on 30 July 2019, in which he agreed to modify the scope of his FOI request to questions 6 and 8-14. This Office does not have jurisdiction to consider the...

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