Dealing with applications for 'all documents'

September 9, 2019 - 2:32pm

Access applications under the Right to Information Act 2009 or Information Privacy Act 2009 have specific compliance requirements, which are discussed in the guideline Assessing the Terms of an Access Application.

One of the compliance requirements is that an officer of the agency must be able to identify the documents the applicant wants to access.  As the above guideline notes, this means the application must describe the documents clearly enough that the decision maker can:

  • identify the documents being applied for
  • conduct searches for the documents; and
  • make decisions on the documents.

It is not uncommon for access applications to ask for all documents about a subject. The use of the words ‘all documents’ in an application will never be enough on its own to make it non-compliant.

What will determine an application's compliance or non-compliance is what comes after ‘all documents’, considered in light of the nature of the agency and its record-keeping and document management systems. If the words that come after 'all documents' describe the documents in a way that allows the decision maker to identify, search for, and make a decision on them, the application's scope will be compliant.

It is possible that an application for ‘all documents related to subject X’ could be too big to process, and as such trigger the substantial and unreasonable diversion of agency resources provisions. That possibility, however, does not render an application non-compliant.