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Sunday, July 01, 2007

No FOI strings for access to car owner details

The name and address of the owner of a registered motor vehicle isn't the most sensitive information in the world, but it's just become a little easier for those who claim they are owed money to get access to these details. Privacy considerations don't get much of a go.

Since February 2006 the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) has been arguing in the courts that Australian National Car Parks can't require it to provide information by way of discovery under the Uniform Civil Procedures Rules about the owners of 294 vehicles which have parked without paying in one of the suburban car parks it manages.

The RTA argued unsuccessfully in the Local Court and then on appeal in the Supreme Court that any request for such information needed to be made and processed under the Freedom of Information Act. Their normal procedures would then be to consult the owner and then make a decision on disclosure.

The NSW Court of Appeal has now decided that the RTA cannot insist that a prospective plaintiff in proceedings must follow these steps. The Uniform Rules provided for discovery in certain circumstances. The requirement to lodge an FOI application was not a necessary prerequisite and was not what was contemplated by a provision in the Rules that said an order for discovery could only be sought after 'reasonable inquiries'.

The Court of Appeal also rejected RTA argument that the name of the owner of the vehicle was not information that would tend to assist in ascertaining the identity of the driver of the vehicle at a particular time. While the owner may not have been the driver, in the Court's view the owner was in a position to help identify a prospective defendant.

As the Uniform Civil Procedures Rules apply in all states and territories, the Court of Appeal decision will be of some significance to motor vehicle registries across the country, but in a South Australian case (Care Park v Registrar of Motor Vehicles No 179/2005), the Supreme Court had already reached a similar decision.

According to this report in the Sydney Morning Herald, the NSW Government sees no need to change the law.

One quirky aspect of the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation - referred to as relevant in the judgment - is that it includes a reference to the Federal Privacy Act - legislation that doesn't apply in the normal course of events to any state government authority such as the RTA.

What the decision will do to parking habits is anyone's guess.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:08 pm

    The law with regards to preliminary discovery finally got changed in 2012 in NSW. See