What About the Non-Responsive Record?
When a public body gets an access request, it has the obligation of searching for the responsive (relevant) records. In almost all cases, 99.9% of the public body’s records will be non-responsive to the applicant’s access request.
There will be times where a record is in the area where a decision has to be made as to whether it is responsive or non-responsive. If the decision is that it is non-responsive, the public body should provide it anyway (subject to exemptions). If the public body would see the non-responsive record as being exempt from disclosure, then of course, the record should not be provided but the applicant should be advised in the response that there are records that are non-responsive but also exempt under a particular section of the legislation. How else will the applicant or my office know that a record was treated as non-responsive?
In other situations, a record may have responsive and non-responsive information in it. The public body is obliged to provide the applicant with the responsive information (subject to exemptions) and it has to decide what to do with the non-responsive information in that same record. I suggest best practice is to provide the non-responsive information to the applicant (subject to exemptions). Alternatively, the public body might choose to sever the non-responsive information but that strikes me as a waste of time. Unnecessary severing causes applicants to be suspicious that something is being hidden. An applicant could submit a second access request for the severed non-responsive portions and the public body would have to provide it (subject to exemptions). So this blog is written just to encourage public bodies to release non-responsive portions of records (as always, subject to exemptions).