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The review of FOI Decisions of Public Bodies

One of the functions of the Information Commissioner is to review decisions made by public bodies on requests for information made under the FOI Act. A broad overview of that function is given here. A detailed description can be found in this Office's Procedures Manual (known as the Section 16 manual because this is the section of the FOI Act 1997 requiring its production). You will find information on how to apply to the Information Commissioner for a review of a decision by a public body in the "Apply for Review" part of this website.

Request for information

Under the FOI Act, a requester makes a request for records (electronic or paper documents) and the public body must issue a decision on that request within four weeks. The public body may decide to release all of the information requested, to release part of it, or to refuse all of it. Where it is refusing access to information, the public body can only do so in accordance with the FOI Act which provides for the protection of certain information through its "exemption" clauses. There are also sections of the Act which describe information which is not covered by the Act and public bodies may rely on these to refuse information.

Internal review by the public body

If the requester is unhappy with the decision, he/she must first appeal the decision to the public body (within 4 weeks). The public body must then issue an "internal review" decision. Non-reply within a certain time-frame is considered to be a refusal and the requester can move on to the next stage: internal review, or appeal to this Office. On the rare occasions where there is no internal review mechanism available, an application may be made directly to the Commissioner. There is also a small number of "first" decisions which bypass the internal review procedure.

A fee is payable at the internal review stage of the public body and at the application for review stage of the Information Commissioner but only for non-personal requests. There is no charge for requests for information where the records contain only personal information relating to the requester. There is no charge for an original FOI request to a public body for access to either personal or non-personal information.