How does OIC conduct an external review?
Information for agencies
OIC is an independent body that conducts merit-based reviews of government decisions on access to, and amendment of, documents under the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) (RTI Act) and the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld) (IP Act).
When OIC receives a new external review application OIC’s registry usually informs the relevant agency of this and asks the agency to provide us with various documents, including, for example, the access application and the agency’s decision. The information that OIC requests at this stage allows OIC to establish whether the Information Commissioner has jurisdiction to conduct an external review of the matter and whether the application will be accepted for external review.
We ask that agencies respond to OIC’s preliminary enquiries promptly and send any documents requested using OIC’s Quatrix service. Quatrix is a secure cloud file sharing platform that enables the secure and encrypted electronic transmission of documents.1 OIC will send you an email containing a link to Quatrix.
The RTI and IP Acts require OIC to identify opportunities for early resolution and to promote settlement of external review applications.2 In recent years OIC has finalised over 80% of external reviews informally. OIC generally attempts to resolve issues in a review informally by discussing the application with the participants in the review.3 This may include a discussion about the merits of the external review application. Often review participants agree to resolve the matter on the basis of OIC’s view on the merits of the application.4
If the issues on external review are not resolved informally OIC will make a formal written decision to finalise the review. These decisions are published on OIC’s website and generally contain:
- the names of participants to the external review
- all the facts relied on
- details of the law used
- details of submissions made by the participants
- reasons for the decision.
Responding to OIC’s requests on external review
The Information Commissioner may request various documents and/or submissions from an agency in order to progress an external review. An agency must comply with such requests.
OIC is committed to providing a fair and efficient external review service. OIC will provide agencies with a timeframe in which to respond to OIC’s requests. We ask that agencies comply with these timeframes. However, in some cases it may not be possible to meet the timeframes set by OIC. If this is the case, please contact us to discuss a more suitable timeframe.
If the issues in the external review require OIC to assess documents to which access has been refused (Documents in Issue), OIC will request copies of these documents from the agency. Under the RTI and IP Acts, OIC has strict obligations to ensure nondisclosure of these documents.5 We take these obligations very seriously and have in place various administrative processes to ensure the secure storage of documents.
To ensure that Documents in Issue are provided to OIC securely, we request that agencies provide copies of these documents to OIC by using OIC’s Quatrix service. Alternatively, provision of Documents in Issue by registered post or hand delivery and on CD rather than in hard copy is possible.6
Documents in Issue must be provided to OIC in a format that enables the documents to be matched up with the agency decision. This means that the Documents in Issue must be page numbered and marked up clearly to identify where the agency has refused access to information and the reason why access has been refused.
Exchanging submissions on external review
The external review process is open and transparent. As a matter of procedural fairness, a submission will be communicated to other external review participants7 if it:
- is relevant to the issues being decided; and
- will affect another external review participant.
In the course of an external review OIC is not permitted to reveal information which is claimed to be exempt or contrary to the public interest to release, or which is protected by legal professional privilege. If a submission contains these kinds of information, the agency must bring this to the attention of OIC.
When making submissions to OIC, agencies should also be aware that is an offence to provide the Information Commissioner with false or misleading information.
How does OIC communicate with participants to a review?
OIC endeavours to provide review participants with regular updates on the progress of reviews. However if you have any questions or become aware of information that will affect the Information Commissioner’s consideration, please contact OIC by any of the following means:
Phone: (07) 3234 7373
Post: PO Box 10143, Adelaide Street, Brisbane, Qld, 4000
We encourage external review participants to contact OIC by telephone where appropriate. Telephone communication allows issues in a review to be assessed and resolved quickly and in direct consultation with the parties concerned. For this reason, OIC staff will contact an agency by telephone during an external review to obtain information or to resolve the issues in a review.
How long will the review take?
The time taken to complete an external review depends on the particular circumstances of the case. OIC’s early assessment and resolution team aims to resolve a majority of external reviews within 90 days. In other cases a review may take longer to resolve, for example, where the review involves complex issues or a large number of documents. Reviews can be informally resolved at any stage before a formal decision is issued. OIC will work hard with all participants to encourage settlement of the external review without the need to issue a formal decision. Reviews requiring a written decision take about one year to finalise.8 Timeliness is important to us and we will try to finalise an external review as quickly as possible.
1 Step by step instructions on how to send and receive documents using Quatrix are located at: https://www.oic.qld.gov.au/about/right-to-information/publication-scheme/our-services/quatrix. More detailed information is available at https://www.maytech.net/products-quatrix-business.html
2 Section 90 of the RTI Act and section 103 of the IP Act.
3 Generally, the participants in a review are the applicant and the agency. However, other parties affected by the agency's decision may apply to the Information Commissioner to participate in the review under the RTI Act.
4 A view may assist in resolving a matter or provide any party adversely affected an opportunity to put forward their views. A view is not a decision. If a participant provides additional information to OIC supporting their case, this will be considered and may influence the final outcome of the review.
5 See sections 107-108 of the RTI Act and 120-121 of the IP Act.
6 We ask that the agency retain the original documents for its own records, although, under section 107(b) of the RTI Act and section 120(b) of the IP Act, documents are returned to the agency at the end of an external review.
7 Procedural fairness requires that parties to the external review whose interests would be adversely affected by specific information be given the opportunity to assess and respond to that information.
8 Most OIC decisions are issued within a year of receiving the external review application.