Central Bank ordered to review refusal of access to records

Information Commissioner issues binding ruling in row over Freedom of Information

The Information Commissioner has issued a binding decision against the Central Bank in a row over the applicability of the Freedom of Information Act 2014.

The Information Commissioner has issued a binding decision against the Central Bank in a row over the applicability of the Freedom of Information Act 2014.

 

The Central Bank has been ordered to review its decision to refuse a journalist access to some of its records under Freedom of Information legislation.

Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall has issued a binding decision against the bank in a row over its refusal to recognise his jurisdiction to handle appeals in FOI cases where it had decided the Act did not apply to it.

Mr Tyndall said when he published his annual report last month that his office was essentially in a stand-off with the bank over the applicability of the legislation to it as a body.

The bank was one of a number of bodies broughtt, or partially brought, under the legislation for the first time as part of the Freedom of Information Act 2014.

Colin Coyle of The Sunday Times sought access in May 2015 to all minutes of meetings of the Central Bank Commission for 2014 and to date in 2015.

The bank identified one record – the minutes of a meeting of January 13th, 2015 - as “accessible” under the legislation. But it refused access to other minutes, which it said contained certain information that was confidential, as outlined in a schedule of the Act.

The bank insisted that where it received an FOI request for records containing such confidential information, neither the Act nor its procedures applied, as it was not a “public body” in such circumstances.

In a binding decision issued on Friday, the commissioner said it seemed to him that the bank’s position on the matter was “entirely at odds” with the spirit and intent of the FOI legislation.

‘Absurd’

“Indeed, I consider that adopting the position taken by the bank would lead to absurd consequences that could not have been intended by the Oireachtas in the passing of the Act.”

Mr Tyndall said that if he were to accept the bank’s position, it would essentially “allow the bank to throw a blanket over all of its records without external, independent oversight by my office.

“Furthermore, it would result in the possible withholding of information that the Oireachtas intended should be released under the Act.”

He considered that the bank’s effective decision to refuse the applicant’s request for access to the minutes should be annulled and that it should be directed to make a fresh decision on the FOI request.

Mr Tyndall said that to resolve any doubts on the matter “arising from any perceived ambiguity in the statutory language”, his office had contacted the central policy unit (CPU) of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which has responsibility for overseeing the operation of FOI within public bodies.

“Following the receipt of legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General on the matter, the CPU confirmed that my interpretation of the legislation is correct,” Mr Tyndall said.

Publishing his annual report in May, the commissioner said his office had had “great difficulty in dealing with the bank in respect of the extent of our jurisdiction”.

The Central Bank said it was “fully committed to meeting the Freedom of Information principles of openness, transparency and accountability, and to the provision of access to records in accordance with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.”

It said it noted the decision of the Information Commissioner and would consider its contents.