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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

NSW ADT FOI decisions on interpretation of applications

Two recent Freedom of Information decisions of the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal involve consideration of what is expected of an agency in interpreting an application and undertaking a search for documents.

In Retain Beacon Hilll High School Committee v Department of Education and Training (No.2) (2007) NSWADT 76, the Tribunal agreed that a "fair reading" of the application justified the Department's interpretation that the applicant had requested access to documents related to the proposed sale or transfer of the High School - terms mentioned on five occasions in the application. The Tribunal said that it was satisfied that there was no ambiguity in the wording that would require steps to clarify the application. The applicant argued unsuccessfully that all documents associated with the closure of the school had been requested.

The Tribunal was also satisfied that a reasonable search for all relevant documents had been undertaken despite the fact that evidence from the applicant indicated that some documents had been overlooked. Minor discrepancies - in this case a failure to locate all documents - did not mean that the steps taken by the Department were not sufficient in the circumstances.

In Cheney v Sydney West Area Health Service (2007) NSWADT 75 the Tribunal was satisfied on the evidence provided by the agency that it did not hold DNA test results relating to the applicant, and upheld the determination to refuse access to information concerning an alleged victim of sexual assault on the grounds that disclosure of information concerning personal affairs would be unreasonable. While the applicant knew the name of the third party, the Tribunal said that an exemption on personal affairs grounds still applied as disclosure under the FOI Act was "disclosure to the world".

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