Ms. X and Courts Service

JudgeElizabeth Dolan Senior Investigator
Judgment Date16 March 2016
Case OutcomeThe Senior Investigator affirmed each decision and found that the Courts Service was justified in its decision to refuse access to the records on the basis that access to them would involve the disclosure of personal information.
Record Number150441
CourtInformation Commission
RespondentCourts Service
Whether the Courts Service was justified in its decisions to refuse requests under section 37(1) of the FOI Act, for access to records concerning Role Profiles of staff of Combined Court Offices of three separate counties.
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

On 6 October 2015, the applicant submitted a request under the FOI Act for access to records concerning the business plans, work status reports, and other information about the Combined Court Offices of three separate counties. The applicant also requested access to the Role Profile forms of members of staff identified by grade in the each of the Combined Court Offices. In its decisions, the Courts Service granted access to some records and part granted access to other records on the basis of section 37(1) of the FOI Act. In each of its original decisions, the Courts Service released records concerning what it described as "the General Role Profiles which were drafted in respect of staffing grades being assigned to Combined Court Offices" but refused access to what it described as "personal role profiles" of the individual members of the Combined Court Office staff for 2014 and 2015. The applicant requested internal reviews on 12 November 2015 in respect of the refusal of access to the "specific role profiles" of each staff member for 2014 and 2015. In each of its internal review decisions, the Courts Service affirmed the original decision. On 14 December 2015, the applicant applied to this Office for a review of the decisions of the Courts Service.

By way of background, staff role profiles are created by the Courts Service and other civil service departments and offices under the Performance Management Development System (PMDS) as a tool for Human Resource management.

In conducting my review, I have had regard to the submission of the Department and to correspondence between the applicant and the Department. The applicant was also invited to make a submission. In reply, the applicant stated that her letter of application set out the grounds of her appeal against the decisions of the Courts Service. I have also had regard to the content of the records at issue and to the provisions of the FOI Act. I consider that the reviews should now be brought to a close by the issue of a formal, binding decision.

Scope of Review

This review is concerned solely with whether the Courts Service was justified in deciding to refuse access to the staff role profiles on the basis of section 37(1) of the FOI Act.

Preliminary Matters

Although I am obliged to give reasons for my decision, section 25(3) of the FOI Act requires me to take all reasonable precautions in the course of a review to prevent disclosure of information contained in an exempt record. This means that the extent to which I can describe the contents of the records is limited.

In addition, section 13(4) of the Act requires that, subject to the Act, any reasons a requester gives for making a request shall be disregarded.

While section 18(1) of the Act provides for the deletion of exempt information and the granting of access to a copy of a record with such exempt information removed, this should be done where it is practicable to do so and where the copy of the record thus created would not be misleading.

However, the Commissioner takes the view that the provisions of section 18 do not envisage or require the extracting of particular sentences or occasional paragraphs from records for the purpose of granting access to those particular sentences or paragraphs. Generally speaking, therefore, the Commissioner is not in favour of the cutting or "dissecting" of records to such an extent.

Analysis and Findings

Submission of applicant

In her letter of application to this Office, the applicant set out a number of reasons why she was of the opinion that the information in the records sought should be granted. I will address those issues in the course of this decision but it is useful to summarise them here as follows:

1. The information sought is not personal information within the meaning of section 2 of the FOI Act.

2. The information can be disclosed under the provisions of section 42(a)(II) of the Act.

3. Access to part of the records can be released under section 18 of the Act.

4. Reference to the Data Protection Acts in the internal review decision was not appropriate.

5. Under the Data Protection Acts, the data controller is obliged to disclose information without identifying the individual.

6. Role Profile forms should not contain personal data other than names and training and development requirements.

Submission of the Courts Service
The Service argues that due to the small number of staff in each of the particular Offices, individuals would be identified even if names were redacted from the records.
The numbers in each grade are very small; in some cases only one person holds a specific position.

Personal Information - Section 37
The Courts Service refused access to the information sought on the ground that access would involve the disclosure of personal information relating to the staff involved.
Section 37 of the FOI Act provides that a public body shall refuse to grant access to information where access would involve the disclosure of personal information relating to a third party unless it considers that the public interest in granting access would, on balance, outweigh the right to privacy of the individual to whom the information relates. For the purposes of the Act, personal information is information about an identifiable individual that (a) would, in the ordinary course of events, be known only to the individual or his/her family or friends, or (b) is held by an FOI body on the understanding...

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