Freedom of Information
The Freedom of Information Act 2014 governs access to information held by State bodies, including the Legal Aid Board. It asserts the right of members of the public to obtain access to official information to the greatest extent possible consistent with the public interest and the right to privacy of individuals. The legislation gives members of the public the following rights:-
the right to access official records held by Government Departments or other public bodies listed in the Act;
the right to have personal information held on them corrected or updated where such information is incomplete, incorrect or misleading; and
the right to be given reasons for decisions taken by public bodies that affect them
These rights of access to records, to have personal information amended and to have a statement of reasons for a decision can also be exercised by a parent or guardian in respect of a minor or disabled person and by the next of kin or personal representative of a deceased person (subject to guidelines published by the Minister for Public Enterprise and Reform from time to time).
These rights mean that members of the public can seek access to personal information and to other records created by the Board.
Under the Freedom of Information Act 2014, the Board has a statutory obligation to prepare and publish a scheme on its website which sets out detailed information about the Board and its operations and about the information and records it will make available, both generally and under the freedom of information legislation. The Board’s publication scheme must be in line with the model publication scheme published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. This is to ensure that the Board and other public bodies present information in a uniform and consistent manner and publish as much information as possible on a routine basis. The publication scheme requires information to be published under the following headings:
- Information about the Board
- Services provided or to be provided to the public
- Decision making process for major policy proposal
- Financial information
- Procurement, and
- FOI disclosure log and other information to be published routinely.
Dealing with enquiries
Law centres should normally co-operate in relation to client requests for their own personal information or for a copy of their file. It is significantly more cumbersome and time consuming to have to deal with a Freedom of Information/Data Protection request for a client’s file than it is to hand over the file, assuming that there are no documents on the file that the law centre is or might be precluded from releasing to the client. It should not therefore be necessary for a client to make an FOI request in order to obtain copies of personal documentation which may have been submitted as part of an application for legal services or as part of their case or which have been created by the law centre on their behalf as part of their case.
The Board has created a number of Information Leaflets which are available and give general information on the Board’s services. A member of the public making a general enquiry regarding the services provided by the Board may be handed one of these leaflets which are available from Organisation. They may also be given general information regarding the Board’s policies and procedures.
While the member of the public must be informed of the FOI request procedure if they ask, consideration should be given at all times as to whether it would be possible for the relevant member of the public to be given the information, with regard to the Board’s need to also comply with the Data Protection Act, the Official Secrets Acts, and solicitor-client confidentiality.
Where a Freedom of Information request does arise, it is dealt with through Organisation, Cahirciveen. The Assistant Director, Organisation is the Board’s Freedom of Information Officer. Law centre staff should be aware of, and be able to advise a member of the public, of the procedure for making a Freedom of Information request.
Staff in Legal Services in Cahirciveen will normally liaise with the law centre in respect of obtaining copies of the relevant records. Copies of all records should be sent on, even if there is a possibility that they will not be released. The Assistant Director, Legal Services will make a decision.
Procedure 7.6 – Dealing with a person who wishes to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2014
- If the person is a client, consult with the solicitor dealing with the file. Identify whether or not the information being requested is something that cannot be released to the client without recourse to an FOI request.
- Advise the person that they will need to put the following in writing:
- the request
- specify that the request is being made under the Freedom of Information Act; and
- be clear enough so that the Board understands what records are being requested.
- A fee may be payable, by cheque/postal order made payable to the “Legal Aid Board”. No fee is payable when the request relates to personal information about the requester (other than where the grant of information concerned relates to a significant number of records and in such cases, the means of the requester must be taken into account).
- For non-personal requests, where the estimated time for search, retrieval and copying is less than five hours, no fees are payable.
- They must submit the request to the following address: Freedom of Information Officer
Legal Aid Board
Co. Kerry V23 R36
- They should be advised that a decision will normally issue within four working weeks. The Freedom of Information Officer will send an acknowledgement to the requester.
Fees for FOI requests
The fees in respect of FOI requests are set out in the FOI Act 2014 as follows:-
- Personal records: no fee is payable when the request relates to personal information about the requester (other than where the grant of information concerned relates to a significant number of records and in such cases, the means of the requester must be taken into account). No application fee is payable in respect of a request for an internal review.
- Non-personal information: no fee is payable where the total Search, Retrieval and Copying (SRC) charge is €100 or less (5 hours at €20 per hour). Where the estimated (SRC) charge is in excess of €100 full fees apply for all the time attaching to the request. There is a cap on the amount of SRC fees that can be charged of €500. There is a further upper limit on estimated SRC fees of €700 (35 hours) above which the Board can refuse to process a request. Alternatively, if the requester agrees, the Board can decide to process such a request but full SRC fees apply without limit. Other fees may also be charged (4c per sheet for photocopying; €10.00 for a CD-ROM containing copy of documents; €6 for a radiograph). There will be no charge in respect of the time spent by the Board in considering requests; and
- An internal review of non-personal information decisions: a fee of €30 may also be charged (€10 for medical card holders).
Where the estimated SRC charge is likely to reach €101, a deposit of not less than 20% of that charge is charged to and paid by the requester. The charging of SRC is mandatory in these circumstances. In such a case, the Board will make every effort to assist the applicant to amend the request so as to reduce or eliminate the amount of the deposit.
It should be noted that a law centre cannot charge a client a fee for their law centre file when it is requested nor can a charge for the retrieval of it from outside storage be applied.
Reductions and Waivers
- A fee in respect of search and retrieval and copying of records will be waived where the cost of collecting and accounting for the fee would be less than €101.
- A fee in respect of search and retrieval and copying of records or a deposit may be reduced or waived where the information in the record would be of particular assistance to the understanding of an issue of national importance.
Internal review procedure
Under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 an applicant who is unhappy with the decision, or who does not receive a reply within four weeks, may seek an internal review of that decision or lack thereof. At present, such reviews in the Board are conducted by the Director of Human Resources.
To request an internal review the applicant must write to the Board referring to the decision received (if one was made) and state that they are seeking an internal review in the matter. The applicant cannot raise any further issues in the internal review request; the sole purpose of the review is for another officer to reconsider the decision on the original request only. The Director of Human Resources has three weeks to make a decision on the request for an internal review.
A standard application fee of €30 (€10 for medical holders and their dependents) may apply. There is no fee for internal review applications concerning only personal information in relation to the applicant or in relation to a decision to impose a fee or deposit.
Application for review to the Office of the Information Commissioner
Following completion of an internal review, an applicant may seek an appeal of the decision to the Information Commissioner which is a statutory office set up under the Freedom of Information Act. An application seeking an appeal to the Information Commissioner must be made within 6 months of notification of the decision by the Board to the applicant.
A standard fee of €50 (€15 for medical holders and their dependents) may apply. Again there is no fee for internal review applications concerning only personal information in relation to the applicant or in relation to a decision to impose a fee or deposit.
Applicants may apply for an appeal through the Commissioner’s website, or alternatively write to:
The Office of the Information Commissioner
18 Lower Leeson Street
Dublin D02 HE97