Case number: OCE-128187-X0B4Q4
31 October 2023
PDF of the issued decision can be found at the following link:
1. On 20 July 2022, the appellant submitted simultaneous requests to 31 local authorities, for the following environmental information:
2. On 12 August 2022, Clare County Council wrote to the appellant refusing the request on the basis that it was manifestly unreasonable, unless the appellant changed the wording of his request. The Council invited the appellant to refine his request.
3. On 15 August 2022, the appellant asked for an internal review, having stated that he did not wish to alter the original request.
4. On 12 September 2022, Clare County Council responded to the appellant’s request for an internal review. The council affirmed the original decision. It also commented that some of the information was available online and to view at the counter of the office in Clare County Council. It also stated that the information that is available online did not reflect the complete request by the appellant.
5. The appellant submitted an appeal of the Council’s decision to this Office on 13 September 2022.
6. I am directed by the Commissioner for Environmental Information to carry out a review of this matter under article 12(5) of the Regulations. In so doing, I have had regard to the correspondence between the appellant and Clare County Council as set out above and to the communications between this office and both Clare County Council and the appellant on the matter.
7. During the course of the investigation and following engagement with this Office, the information that had been withheld by the Council was released to the appellant.
8. A review by this office is de novo in nature, which means that it is based on the circumstances prevailing at the time of the review, and not at the time of the public authority’s decision. As such, I do not believe that this Office is required to review the substantive matter of whether the Council was entitled to refuse the information at issue, as the Council has now reversed its own original and internal review decisions. It is therefore no longer relying on its original grounds for refusal.
9. However, it is also the case that the decisions of the Council did not weigh up the public interest served in releasing the information, and the interests served in refusing the information. This balancing exercise should have been conducted pursuant to article 10 of the AIE Regulations.
10. While the Commissioner has previously deemed it appropriate to remit decisions to public authorities on the basis of a lack of engagement with the provisions of article 10 of the AIE Regulations, in this case, remittal would serve no useful purpose. I would encourage Clare County Council to be mindful of its obligations, to either provide the requester with the environmental information requested or a reasoned decision as to why refusal is appropriate, having regard to all of the requirements of the AIE Regulations to avoid similar situations arising in the future.
11. Having carried out a review under article 12(5) of the AIE Regulations, on behalf of the Commissioner for Environmental information, I hereby annul Clare County Council’s decision to refuse the release of the records requested. As the Council has released the requested information to the appellant, I make no further direction.
12. A party to the appeal or any other person affected by this decision may appeal to the High Court on a point of law from the decision. Such an appeal must be initiated not later than two months after notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.
On behalf of the Commissioner for Environmental Information