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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Long delays in ADT processes

A new privacy decision by the NSW ADT (NW v NSW Fire Brigades (No.2) (2006) NSWADT61) this week saw the Tribunal reject an application for damages although in a previous decision it had been satisfied that there had been a breach of privacy principles. The Tribunal found that there was no causal link between the breach and the subsequent damage (loss of income) suffered by the applicant.

This case has had some twists and turns: it involved disclosure of information about attendance as a retained fire fighter to the fire fighter's employer, a local council. In the earlier hearing referred to below, the Fire Brigades claimed that the information was not subject to privacy legtislation as it was contained in a publicly available publication, the station occurence book. This argument and another that the disclosure was consistent with a Direction from the NSW Privacy Commissioner regarding the use of information for investigative purposes were rejected.

While the new decision reiterates that the Fire Brigades breached the disclosure principle, the Tribunal notes that the Council could have compelled the person concerned to provide the information to it in any event.

The time taken to resolve privacy complaint (and FOI) matters by the ADT is worth a comment. In this case the conduct complained of occurred in April 2003. The ADT heard the original matter in April and October 2004 and handed down its decision that a breach of privacy had occurred in April 2005. The application for an award of damages was heard in September 2005. This decision is dated March 2006.

In this case the parties themselves may have contributed to the long drawn out process but this is not a system that involves speedy resolution of complaints about administrative conduct.

The NSW Attorney General is still to table in Parliament the Statutory Review of the Administrative Decisions Tribunal Act – to examine whether the Act was achieving its objectives. This should have been completed and presented no later than July 2003.

What’s that old saying – justice delayed is justice denied?

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