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Ms. X and Beaumont Hospital (FOI 2014)

Case Number: 160229

Whether the Hospital was justified in its decision to refuse access to records relating to accounts bearing the name "Neuroradiology Research Fund" under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act on the basis that no such records exist

Conducted in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act by Elizabeth Dolan, Senior Investigator, who is authorised by the Information Commissioner to conduct this review

 

Background

In her FOI request of 14 August 2015, the applicant sought copies of the following:

"1. The identity of the bank, branch, address of branch, sort code, account number, BIC and IBAN for any and all accounts bearing the name "Neuroradiology Research Fund";
2. The identity of the authorised signatories to any and all such accounts;
3. Copies of all bank statements pertaining to any and all accounts bearing the name "Neuroradiology Research Fund" for the financial years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014;
4. Copies of the source of all donations and/or deposits into such bank accounts bearing the name "Neuroradiology Research Fund" for the financial years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 and amounts deposited by such parties and the lodgement dates thereof.
5. The identity of all payees to whom cheques were written and/or electronic fund transfers made and/or inter-account transfers made and/or cash withdrawals made in favour of from any and all accounts bearing the name "Neuroradiology Research Fund" for each of the financial years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 and amounts paid or transferred to and or withdrawn in favour of each beneficiary and the payment, transfer, withdrawal date pertaining thereto."

On 12 October 2015, the Hospital granted the applicant's request in part. It found that only part 3 was a valid request for records as parts 1, 2, 4 and 5 were requests for information. It stated that there are no bank statements for an account named "Neuroradiology Research Fund" as no such account exists. It stated that this phrase is, however, used to identify money lodged into the Hospital's general account. The Hospital provided the name of the authorised signatory for monies in the general account labelled "Neuroradiology Research Fund." However, it refused access to copies of bank statements from the general account.
On 29 October 2015, the applicant requested an internal review of the Hospital's decision. She restated points 1, 2, 4 and 5 of her original request. On 26 November 2015, the Hospital varied its original decision and provided the applicant with additional information. It provided the applicant with an excel spreadsheet containing details of payments received and monies withdrawn from the "Neuroradiology Research Fund" for the years 2010 to 2014. It confirmed that there is no separate account in this name and it also confirmed the identity of who it said was the authorised signatory. However, it stated that this information was not contained in any record.
On 19 May 2016, the applicant applied to this Office for a review of the Hospital's decision. Both the applicant and the Hospital made submissions during the course of this review. At this stage, I must bring the review to a close by the issue of a formal binding decision as the applicant requires this.
In conducting this review, I have had regard to correspondence between the applicant and the Hospital, to correspondence between the Hospital and this Office, to correspondence between the applicant and this Office, to the contents of the records at issue and to the provisions of the FOI Act.

 

Scope of Review

The applicant's request specifically refers to accounts bearing the name "Neuroradiology Research Fund." The Hospital argues that there are no accounts bearing this name. The scope of this review is therefore confined to whether the Hospital was justified in refusing to release the records requested in parts 1-5 of the applicant's request under section 15(1)(a) of the Act on the basis that the records requested do not exist.

 

Preliminary Matters

Section 13(4) of the FOI Act does not allow this review to have regard to any reasons as to why the applicant is seeking the withheld records. While the applicant made very detailed submissions as to the background to and reasons why she is pursuing investigations into the subject of the records, much of these are not relevant to my review.

Section 22(12)(b) of the FOI Act provides that a decision to refuse a request shall be presumed not to have been justified unless the head of the FOI body shows to the Commissioner's satisfaction that its decision was justified. This means that the onus is on the Hospital to satisfy the Commissioner that its decision to refuse access to the records was justified.

 

Analysis and Findings

Section 15(1)(a)
Section 15(1)(a) provides that a request for access to a record may be refused if the record does not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain its whereabouts have been taken. In such cases, the Commissioner's role is to review the decision of the public body and to decide whether the decision that no further records exist is justified. This means that I must have regard to the evidence available to the decision maker and the reasoning used by the decision maker in arriving at his/her decision. The evidence in "search" cases consists of the steps actually taken to search for records along with miscellaneous other evidence about the record management practices of the public body on the basis of which the public body concluded that the steps taken to search for records was reasonable. This Office's understanding of its role in such cases was approved by Mr. Justice Quirke in the High Court case of Matthew Ryan and Kathleen Ryan v. the Information Commissioner [2002 No. 18 M.C.A.] (available on www.oic.ie).

In her submissions to this Office, the applicant disputes the Hospital's claim that there are no bank accounts bearing the name "Neuroradiology Research Fund." She states that on foot of an earlier FOI request, the Hospital provided her with a copy of a Subsite Agreement dated 19 December 2013, between a named University and the Hospital. She states that clause 2.2 of the Subsite Agreement provides that "upon receipt of a correct and approved invoice from the sub-institution, the principal institution shall make the payments by cheque payable to "Name of Payee: Neuroradiology Research Fund; Address of Payee: [a named Doctor], Beaumont Hospital." The applicant submits that this Subsite Agreement is evidence of the existence of a Neuroradiology Research Fund Account as cheques made payable to a "Neuroradiology Research Fund" could not be lodged into an account bearing the name "Beaumont Hospital General Account".
Following communications with this Office, the Hospital provided the applicant with redacted copies of five bank statements from its general account. The information redacted related to transactions which did not concern the "Neuroradiology Research Fund." The statements provided spanned the duration of the subsite agreement referred to by the applicant. The statements showed the account name "Beaumont Hospital General Current Account," the account number and the amount of the payment. They show that the payments were made by the University named in the subsite agreement. The Hospital stated that it was unable to provide statements from its general account showing payments out in respect of the Neuroradiology Research fund as this is only available in bulk figures of daily cheques to all areas including the Neuroradiology Research Fund. However, the Hospital again referred to the excel spread sheet previously provided the applicant which shows the cheque number and corresponding amount paid out of the general account in respect of the Neuroradiology Research Fund for the relevant period of the request.
On 14 September 2016, the Hospital provided the applicant with a further four statements for the period 2010 to 2014, which contained transactions relevant to the Neuroradiology Research Fund. The Hospital submits that the bank statements provided to the applicant demonstrate that transactions relevant to the "Neuroradiology Research Fund" take place through its general account.
I must make it clear that I accept that the records provided by the Hospital do not fall within the scope of the FOI request as made. Instead, the Hospital provided them in order to support its position that a separate account does not exist. As regards the identity of the "authorised signatory" to such account, I note that this has also been supplied to the applicant insofar as it relates to access to monies labelled "Neuroradiology Research Fund." The FOI Act gives a potential right of access to records which are held as opposed to information. Therefore, unless the answers to questions posed appear in records held within the scope of the request, this Office has no jurisdiction to give direction to an FOI body in relation to them.
On the basis of the information provided by the Hospital, I am satisfied that lodgements and withdrawals relevant to the Neuroradiology Research Fund take place through the Hospital's general account. I note that parts 1-5 of the applicant's request each specifically refer to records relevant to accounts bearing the name "Neuroradiology Research Fund." I am satisfied that no such accounts exist. I find that the Hospital was entitled to refuse the applicant's request under section 15(1)(a) of the Act.

 

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of the Hospital to refuse access to records requested under section 15(1)(a) of the Act on the basis that these records do not exist.

 

Right of Appeal

Section 24 of the FOI Act sets out detailed provisions for an appeal to the High Court by a party to a review, or any other person affected by the decision. In summary, such an appeal, normally on a point of law, must be initiated not later than four weeks after notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.

 


Elizabeth Dolan
Senior Investigator