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In June 2017, MI requested SVUH Board minutes and any briefing papers presented during meetings from November 2016 to the following June.
The initial request was refused by SVUH in July 2017, as was the subsequent appeal.
The decision letters stated the refusals were made in relation to Section 29 (1) of the FoI Act, which refers to “deliberative processes” and Section 30 (1)(b) and (c), which refer to having a “significant adverse effect” on the performance of a body, and on its ability to conduct negotiations.
MI appealed the decisions to the Information Commissioner in October 2017. The Commissioner noted the hospital’s decisions had not referred to the briefing papers, so his Office would only consider the matter in relation to the Board minutes.
In its correspondence with the Office, SVUH said disclosure of the records would have an adverse effect on SVUH and SVHG in performing their management functions. It stated that granting the records would disclose plans regarding current and future negotiations and would have a significant adverse effect on strategic planning, operational matters and HR/industrial relations across the Group, as well as ongoing legal proceedings.
In her decision in August 2017, Senior Investigator Ms Elizabeth Dolan annulled the hospital’s “effective refusal” of the briefing papers and directed SVUH to undertake a fresh decision-making process in relation to them.
Ms Dolan also annulled the hospital’s reliance on Sections 30(1)(a), 30(1)(b) and (c), as well as Section 35 of the Act, which refers to information subject to a duty of confidence.
In relation to Sections 36(1)(b) and 37(1), which SVUH also used to defend its decision, the Senior Investigator found “the public interest warrants the grant of access of some of this information”. These sections refer to “commercially-sensitive information” and “personal information”, respectively.
“I annul the hospital’s refusal of the remaining information and direct that access be granted to it,” she stated.
However, SVHG appealed the decision to the High Court. The case was due to be heard at time of going to press.