Freedom of Information - Appeals
Appeal of a Decision
Under the Freedom of Information Act, a person generally has a right to appeal a decision taken by a public body. The appeal is to a higher authority within the body and/or to the Information Commissioner. Unless the application for review constitutes an appeal concerning personal information, a decision under section 9 or 10 or a decision in relation to the charging of fees or deposits, the following fees must be paid by the applicant before a review can proceed:
Fees - Application for Internal Review:
30 euro (reduced to 10 euro if the applicant is covered by a medical card)
Fees - Application for Review by Information Commissioner:
50 euro (reduced to 15 euro if the applicant is covered by a medical card)
Section 21 provides for internal review of initial decisions made by a public body. Internal reviews must normally be undertaken before an appeal may be made to the Information Commissioner. The Act requires that an internal review must:
- be undertaken at a higher level than that at which the original decision was taken
- be completed within 15 working days from receipt of the request for a review and relevant fee
- uphold, annul or vary the original decision.
An application for internal review must be made within 20 working days of the initial decision, but head of public body has discretion to extend this period. If no decision is made within 15 working days, non-reply is deemed to be a refusal and the applicant may proceed with an appeal to the Information Commissioner.
Decisions which Bypass Internal Review
The following are decisions which are referred directly to the Information Commissioner without going through the process of internal review:
- section 38 matters i.e. where the public body is required to consult with a third party
- extension of time limit for deciding on a request (section 14)
Review by Information Commissioner
Section 22 of the Act establishes the Office of Information Commissioner. The Office reflects key features of the independent appeals system under FOI in terms of:
- powers to seek documents and compel witnesses
- a mandate to operate informally
- decisions binding, subject to review by the High Court and Supreme Court
- specific time limits
- a mandate to review operation of the Act (including the operation of particular provisions) and compliance by public bodies
- reporting directly to the Houses of the Oireachtas
The Information Commissioner is bound by the Act to start from the position that a decision to refuse a request for information was unjustified. The onus is therefore on a public body to document and explain fully the basis for a decision to refuse a request by reference to the provisions of the Act. If a decision to refuse a request is appealed to the Information Commissioner, the public body will be invited to make a submission. The importance of cogent, well argued submissions, clearly identifying the basis for exemptions and harm and/or public interest considerations, where relevant, cannot be overemphasised.
What Decisions can the Commissioner Review?
The Commissioner may review the following:
- decisions made on internal review under section 21
- decisions on charges
- decisions to extend the time for consideration of requests 14
- decisions to defer the provision of access to a record falling within section 29 or a matter of such public interest that the Minister first wishes to inform the Houses of Oireachtas
- the Oireachtas
- decisions to which the consultation procedures outlined in section 29 apply
- decisions to refuse a request for a record on the grounds that section 42 (restriction of Act) applies
How to contact the Information Commissioner
The Office of Information Commissioner may be contacted at the following address:
Contact details for each member of staff in the Commissioner's Office are contained on the OIC website.