Supreme Court rules public bodies must justify FOI refusals

The Supreme Court, in important judgments affecting application of the Freedom of Information Act, has ruled public bodies are required to justify refusals to disclose certain confidential or commercially sensitive documents.

A finding by a public body that records are exempt from disclosure under the Act does not automatically mean they cannot be disclosed, Ms Justice Marie Baker held.

A decision that records are exempt must be explained and justified and the head of the public body must explain why the public interest does not justify release of the document.

However, the Information Commissioner had imposed an "unduly high bar" by requiring evidence of "exceptional" justifying circumstances to establish a refusal to disclose was lawful, she held.

On foot of those and other findings, the five judge court allowed separate appeals by the Commissioner against court rulings which had reversed decisions by the Commissioner granting applications by journalist Gavin Sheridan and RTÉ for disclosure of certain records.

The Commissioner will now hold fresh reviews, in line with the court's findings, concerning both applications.

Both appeals concerned the means by which public interest considerations are to be engaged when records are commercially sensitive or confidential.