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FOI Update: Nearly 37,000 FOI Requests Made in 2018

27 August 2019

The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) recently published its 2018 Annual Report. The Report provides a summary of recent developments and key FOI statistics for the year. Details of particular issues that arose, and a round-up of FOI decisions of interest, are also covered in the Report. This article explores each of these below.

Number of requests

Public bodies received a total of 36,896 requests in 2018, an increase of 8.5% on 2017.

Since 2015, the first full year since the introduction of the FOI Act 2014 and the extension of FOI to a range of new bodies, the total number of requests received annually by public bodies has increased by 32%.

Deemed refusals

There was a reduction in the number of deemed refusals of FOI requests in 2018.  A deemed refusal occurs where an FOI body fails to give a decision on a request or application within the prescribed statutory timeframe. In 2018, 40% of FOI requests were deemed to be refused by FOI bodies at either the original decision or the internal review stage of the FOI request. 28% were deemed refused at both the original decision and internal review stages. 

This is a positive trend; particularly given the OIC’s criticism of the sharp rise in the number of deemed refusals in recent years.  However, the Commissioner noted that the figure still remains unacceptably high.

The OIC was also particularly critical of the occurrence of a number of cases in 2018 where FOI bodies argued that they were unable to make a decision within the required period due to the high volume of FOI requests on hand generally. 

As a result, the OIC is currently conducting an investigation of compliance with the relevant deadlines within a select number of bodies, the findings of which will be published later in 2019.

It is worth noting, in this regard, that the FOI Act only allows an FOI body to extend the standard deadline of 20 working days for an FOI request where it is not reasonably possible to comply due to the large number of records requested, or because there are already a number of requests for the same or related records on hand, which must be dealt with first.  Otherwise, as the administration of the FOI Act is a core function of FOI bodies, adequate resources should be allocated to deal with FOI requests within the statutory time limits. 

Key decisions

During 2018, the OIC made a number of key decisions including:

  • Records relating to the official business of FOI bodies held in non-official email and social media accounts are subject to the FOI Act. See pages 40 and 41
  • Release of records relating to the reimbursement approvals for novel drugs could have a serious, adverse effect on the financial interests of the State. See pages 41 and 42
  • The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection was not required to provide a redacted copy of CCTV footage in which the applicant was captured as it did not have the necessary facilities to allow it to do so. See pages 44 and 45

As this report relates to 2018, it does not include any reference to the three recent, landmark Court judgments, in which decisions of the OIC were struck down[1]

Conclusion

The Annual Report provides an interesting review of FOI law and practice in 2018. 

On a positive note, the OIC began the roll-out of its Outreach Programme in 2018. The primary purpose of this Programme is to increase the OIC’s level of engagement with FOI bodies. It began by focusing on direct engagement with FOI decision makers, with work continuing on other areas of the Programme in 2019.       

However, despite the ever increasing volume of FOI requests year on year and improved compliance in processing FOI requests within the statutory deadlines, the OIC continues to be critical of FOI bodies that do not allocate sufficient resources to ensure full compliance with the FOI Act. Significantly in this regard, the OIC has proven willing to conduct investigations into the practices and procedures adopted by FOI bodies for the purpose of such compliance.   

For more information on the likely impact of this on your organisation, contact a member of our Freedom of Information team. 


[1] Minister for Health v Information Commissioner [2019] IESC 40; Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources v The Information Commissioner and Gavin Sheridan and ENET [2019] IECA 68; University College Cork v The Information Commissioner & RTE [2019] IEHC 195.

Discuss your FOI queries now with Lisa Joyce.

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