FOI salary case heads to court

An open records request made by the Caymanian Compass in January for the salaries of all Government Information Services employees is now being challenged in the Grand Court.

According to GIS officials, the individual bringing the challenge is Acting Chief Information Officer Angela Piercy, who was ordered to disclose her salary in July by Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert.

Mrs. Dilbert said other GIS employees’ salaries could remain secret, but stated in her ruling that salary ranges initially provided to the Compass would have to be significantly narrowed to within CI $10,000 between the top and bottom of the pay scales.

No other GIS employees have formally objected to the ruling by Mrs. Dilbert. However, most GIS staff members did oppose the initial request that their exact salaries should be released.

This case is the first open records request to be challenged in the courts since the Freedom of Information Law (2007) came into effect on 5 January, 2009.

According to the law, a request for judicial review of the information commissioner’s ruling is the final step in the appeals process for open records queries.

The request for a court review must be made within 45 days of the commissioner’s decision. That 45-day window for the GIS salary case was due to expire on Thursday.

The court is somewhat constrained in the way it can act on appeals regarding FOI requests. It cannot alter the specific ruling of the information commissioner, in essence, to reverse or amend the initial decision made by that office.

In a judicial review, the court considers various grounds which affect the legality of the decision, and whether or not the decision should be set aside.

Mrs. Piercy was unavailable for comment this week as she was on emergency leave. However, in previous comments to the Compass she noted that appeals were being considered.

‘I think GIS is duty-bound to ensure that the case receives the judicial attention it deserves,’ she said in August. (See Compass, 3 August ‘GIS boss must disclose salary.’)

Commissioner Dilbert gave reasons for requiring higher-ranking government employees to disclose their exact salaries in her 30 July ruling on the case.

‘Common sense and the FOI Law strongly suggest that the higher and more influential the post, the greater the need for transparency, and this includes more disclosure of personal information,’ she said.

Mrs. Dilbert also noted that, in the way civil servant salary scales were structured, the salaries for those holding higher-ranking posts were actually less clear.

‘Most troubling is the fact that the more senior the public servant, the wider the salary band and therefore the less clear the accountability,’ she said.

In effect, the commissioner’s decision did state that civil servant salaries were personal information, but that the public interest outweighed protections of that information the higher up the civil service management structure one went.

A court date for the judicial review had not been set at press time.