Case number: OCE-133765-H6K8S8
20 October 2023
PDF of the issued decision can be found at the following link:
1. On 2 November 2022, the appellant made a request to the National Transport Authority (NTA) for the following information:
2. On 11 November 2022, the NTA responded to the appellant granting his request and attaching information which it had identified as relevant to the request.
3. On 11 November 2022, the appellant requested an internal review, submitting that the response he received was insufficient.
4. On 9 December 2022, the NTA responded to the appellant’s request for an internal review. The NTA affirmed the original decision.
5. The appellant appealed to this Office on 9 January 2022.
6. I have now completed my review under article 12(5) of the AIE Regulations. In so doing, I have had regard to the submissions made by the NTA and the appellant. In addition, I have had regard to:
7. In accordance with article 12(5) of the AIE Regulations, the role of this Office is to review the public authority’s internal review decision and to affirm, annul or vary it.
8. The scope of this review is confined to whether the NTA has complied with its obligations under article 7(1) of the AIE Regulations to provide the appellant with the environmental information held by or for it which is the subject of his request.
9. Article 7(1) of the AIE Regulations requires public authorities to make available “any environmental information, the subject of the request, held by or for, the public authority”. that is held by or for them on request.
10. The appellant argues that the NTA has not provided him with all information held by or for it within the scope of his request. He contends that the figures released by the NTA do not identify or supply the raw data underlying the figures and that the figures received should have had an accompanying narrative.
11. In his internal review request, the appellant referenced information contained within a Central Statistics Office Transport Bulletin. He submitted that the Transport Bulletin “credits the NTA with further information it claims to have been given”. The appellant therefore contends that the NTA may have had further documents relevant to his request and that a more thorough search by the NTA might reveal additional information.
12. The NTA affirmed the original decision, considering that the information it had provided to the appellant “covered the parameters of [his] request”. It concluded that the information provided satisfied the appellant’s original request as it “provides data in respect of the figures for the number of people using public transport that covers the time period mentioned”. However, notwithstanding its decision, it also provided the appellant with three additional documents:
The NTA confirmed that in respect of the CSO and PSO Passenger numbers data, no report or analysis is sent to the CSO. It explained that passenger numbers are sent by the NTA on a monthly basis to the CSO for inclusion in the CSO bulletin, with the caveat that these figures are subject to change.
13. The appellant’s submission to this Office states that the document issued to him by the NTA includes figures relating to individual public transport companies. He submits that the raw data used to compile these figures could only have been supplied by those individual companies. The appellant notes that the raw data was not identified or supplied by the NTA. The appellant also maintains that a narrative should have accompanied the figures released to him.
14. The appellant also argues that his case is similar to that dealt with in the decision of this Office in OCE-118975-C8L3Z6 Ms Y and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. In that case, the Department had refused the appellant’s request on the basis that no environmental information within the scope of the request was held by or for the Department. It was noted that article 7(5) of the AIE Regulations is the relevant provision to consider where the question arises as to whether the requested environmental information is held by or for the public authority concerned. It was also noted that where a public authority has effectively refused a request under article 7(5), I must be satisfied that adequate steps have been taken to identify and locate relevant environmental information, having regard to the particular circumstances.
15. In my view, however, the circumstances of this case differ significantly from those in OCE-118975-C8L3Z6. I note that in OCE-118975-C8L3Z6, the Department argued that it did not hold any information in relation to the request. There may of course be cases where a public authority provides some information in response to a request while failing to provide other information held by or for it within the scope of that request. In those cases, article 7(5) will apply and it will be for this Office to determine whether reasonable searches have been carried out by the public authority to support its conclusion that no further information within the scope of the request is held by or for it.
16. What has occurred in this case, however, in my view, is that the appellant has sought to widen the scope of his request in the course of his dealings with the NTA and this Office. The appellant’s original request sought:
The basis of his argument that the NTA holds further information within the scope of his request is (i) that despite its finding that the record provided to him at original decision stage was the only record relevant to his request, the NTA went on to provide him with further records “which were deemed relevant”; (ii) that the raw data underlying the figures provided by the NTA has not been released; (iii) that it is unreasonable to accept that the NTA compiles figures without accompanying narrative content; and (iv) that the NTA has made no reference to “regular briefings given to the CSO”. However, here we must return to the wording of the appellant’s original request which was for figures for changes in passenger numbers following specific events and for specific time periods. He did not request the raw data underlying those figures nor did he request a narrative to accompany those figures or details of briefings provided to the CSO. I do not agree with the appellant that despite its finding that the record provided to him at original decision stage was the only record relevant to his request, the NTA went on to provide him with further records “which were deemed relevant”. I consider that the NTA, without prejudice to its position that it had responded to the appellant’s request, sought to provide him with information it considered to be outside the scope of his request as he had made reference to the CSO Transport Bulletin in his internal review request. Nor do I agree with the appellant’s contention that the NTA has provided him with “a paraphrased document” in “frustration of the Regulations”. The Regulations provide that a requester is entitled to be provided with “any environmental information, the subject of [their] request, held by or for, the public authority”. Unlike the Freedom of Information Act, which refers to “records”, the AIE Regulations refer to “information” meaning that it is open to a public authority to compile information from various sources in order to respond to a request provided that in doing so, it provides the appellant with any environmental information held by or for it within the scope of that request or, when refusing information, does so in accordance with the grounds for refusal set out in the Regulations. The key factor in this case, however, is that the appellant’s arguments in support of his contention that not all information within the scope of his request was provided to him, in fact indicate a widening of the request from the initial request for figures for changes in public transport numbers to a request for data underlying those figures and a narrative explaining them.
17. The AIE Regulations and the Directive do make it clear that public authorities should provide information, guidance and assistance to the public on the exercise of their rights under AIE. However, the obligation to provide environmental information is limited to information requested by a requester and it is for the requester to clearly outline what information they are seeking. I am of the view that it was reasonable for the NTA to confine its response to the categories of information specified in the request, which did not include raw data or an accompanying narrative. It may be the case that further information relating to the change in passenger numbers following the introduction of reduced fares is held by or for the NTA, other than the figures requested by the appellant and it is open to the appellant to submit a new request for further environmental information should he wish to do so. It is for the appellant to construct his request so that it covers all of the information he wishes to be provided with.
18. Taking all of the above into account, it is my view that the appellant has been provided with figures for passenger numbers following the introduction of reduced fares for the period specified by him and that the NTA has therefore complied with its obligations under article 7(1) of the AIE Regulations.
19. Having carried out a review under article 12(5) of the AIE Regulations, on behalf of the Commissioner for Environmental information, I find that the information released by the NTA was in line with and within scope of the original request. I hereby affirm the National Transport Authority’s decision.
20. 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.
Commissioner for Environmental Information