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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

NSW ADT FOI decision: safety first

In Dezfouli v Justice Health (2006) NSWADT 274 the ADT reviewed a decision concerning refusal of access to documents or parts of documents that would identify individuals employed by the agency, and other individuals. The FOI applicant was a patient of the Long Bay Forensic Prison Hospital. He had sought access to his medical file. Some documents had been disclosed, but others withheld on various grounds.

While there has been a general assumption that it might be difficult to exempt from disclosure names of those in public employment that simply recorded the performance of duties, the circumstances of this case led the Tribunal to conclude that all identifying particulars were exempt.

The Tribunal heard evidence that staff employed feared that disclosure of their surnames would place their safety and well being at risk and upheld the decision to refuse access, generally and to this particular applicant, on the basis of a reasonable expectation of danger to life or safety (Clause 4(1)(c)). Some documents identified staff by their first name only. The Tribunal found that disclosure of any material identifyiing staff who made notes on files about patients was exempt on the basis that disclosure would have a substantial adverse effect on the performance of agency functions (Clause 16(a)(iv)).

Reasons given were that staff would be less likely to accurately record observations; the agency would have difficulty retaining and recruiting staff; and the treatment of the applicant and patients generally would be compromised. The public interest in appropriate treatment of forensic patients outweighed any public interest in full disclosure of the names of staff providing notes.

The Tribunal also found that deletion of the names and identifiers of other inmates included in the applicant's medical file was information concerning their personal affairs and disclosure would be unreasonable (Clause 6).

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