Giving requesters option to have records processed does not meet duty to assist

Complaint: The Privy Council Office (PCO) did not process requested records it expected would later be certified as containing Cabinet confidences under section 69.

Investigation: The OIC learned that PCO had included, as part of a pilot project, a statement in its acknowledgement letter to requesters that it had taken this approach in order to expedite requests. PCO said it worded the statement such that requesters could disagree and ask that the records be processed.

Outcome: PCO removed the wording from its acknowledgement letter.

Information Commissioner’s position

  • When considering ways to accelerate the processing of requests, institutions should remember that they cannot disregard their obligations under the Act. Proper processing requires institutions to identify and review the requested records.
  • While timely access to records is an important component of meeting the duty to assist, it is not the only one. Institutions must also respond accurately and completely, and make every reasonable effort to assist requesters.
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