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Thursday, April 16, 2009

What's in a name?

A lot depends on the context, as two recent NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal Freedom of Information cases involving NSW Police illustrate.

Details of a victim/witness named in a report of an incident, as you would expect are likely to be unavailable unless there are special and unusual circumstances.In Chirita v NSW Police Force (2009) NSWADT 69, the Tribunal upheld the Police determination that the date of birth, home telephone number, mobile telephone number and home address of the victim/witness named in a Police Report was information concerning the personal affairs of that person and disclosure would be unreasonable, even though the applicant, the person responsible for the incident, knew his name. And that the public interest override-still alive and well in NSW (cf Victoria)-did not warrant disclosure in this instance.

But the names of police officers carrying out their duties is another matter. In Vella v NSW Police Force(2009) NSWADT 68 the Police argued that the names of three officers who sat on an assessment panel to consider Mr Vella's application to join the Force was information that if disclosed
could reasonably be expected to have a substantial adverse effect on the effective performance by the agency of its functions, and would, on balance, be contrary to the public interest. The Tribunal [36] gave this short shrift, particularly as the panel members would have introduced themselves by name to Mr Vella at the time, and because of the absence of evidence to support the claim of adverse effects from disclosure.The Tribunal had previously rejected [29-35] Police arguments that some parts of notes of his interview with the panel should also be withheld from Mr Vella for the same reasons, the Police in this instance citing possible impact on candour and frankness in future.

It's 16 years since the NSW Court of Appeal rejected an earlier argument by the NSW Police that the names of officers carrying out official functions was exempt, on that occassion on personal affairs grounds.
(Commissioner of Police v District Court of New South Wales (1993) 31 NSWLR 606-Perrin's case; no link available.)

However details such as
date of birth, home telephone number, mobile telephone number and home address of members of the Police Force are also likely to be well and appropriately protected against unwarranted disclosure.

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