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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

ADT FOI decision mobile phone number and hourly charge rate "sensitive"?

Retain Beacon Hill High School Committee v Attorney General’s Department (2006) NSWADT 262 involved a dispute over documents concerning the closure of the school and the proposed sale of the site by the Department of Education and Training.

The documents the subject of this decision were one document that would reveal the mobile telephone number of an employee and a number of documents that would reveal the hourly rates charged for work undertaken by the Crown Solicitor’s Office. I’m sure these weren’t central to the original request but neither party was giving ground, so the ADT got to decide.

The Tribunal found that “in the context of a large government department where an officer can otherwise be contacted by means of a landline, and the release of the officer’s mobile telephone number is ordinarily limited to those with whom the officer is in a close working relationship or with whom the officer has a personal or private relationship, the officer’s mobile telephone number is information affecting the officer’s personal affairs”. The Tribunal said that there appeared to be no public interest in making the telephone number more broadly available, assumed that the individual would not wish the number to be released, and decided disclosure would be unreasonable.

On the Crown Solicitor’s hourly rate, the Tribunal followed an earlier decision (Neary v State Rail Authority (1999) NSWADT 107) in finding that information of this kind concerned financial affairs and disclosure could reasonably be expected to have an unreasonable effect in that it would reduce the Office’s capacity to compete in providing legal services to the NSW Government.

This was despite the fact that one of the documents had been tabled in Parliament in response to an order of the Legislative Council, and the applicant already had a copy that revealed the hourly rate.

I would have thought that disclosure of this document at least wouldn’t have any effect on the financial affairs of the Crown Solicitor’s Office, let alone an “unreasonable adverse effect”, as the applicant and anyone else who chose to inspect the document tabled in Parliament would have been aware of the content.

A quick Google of “solicitors hourly rates" shows that some law firms aren’t too fussed about disclosure of what they charge and even put it on the web for all to see. Perhaps they see it as a competitive tool.

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