Application of Schedule 3, section 10(1)(f) RTI Act

Relevant considerations

1. Does the information consist of the type of information listed in schedule 3, section 10(2)?

Information is not exempt information under schedule 3, section 10(1) of the RTI Act, if it consists of:

  • matter revealing that the scope of a law enforcement investigation has exceeded the limits imposed by law; or
  • matter containing a general outline of the structure of a program adopted by an agency for dealing with a contravention or possible contravention of the law; or
  • a report on the degree of success achieved in a program adopted by an agency for dealing with a contravention or possible contravention of the law; or
  • a report prepared in the course of a routine law enforcement inspection or investigation by an agency whose functions include that of enforcing the law (other than the criminal law or the law relating to corruption under the Crime and Corruption Act 2001); or
  • a report on a law enforcement investigation that has already been disclosed to the entity the subject of the investigation.

Recent decisions of this office[1] have considered the requirements of the first of the above exceptions, schedule 3, section 10(2)(a) of the RTI Act. In Flori, the Assistant Information Commissioner referred to Isles and explained that for the exception to apply, a decision-maker would generally need to have available to them some form of objective and authoritative finding that the scope of a law enforcement investigation has exceeded the limits imposed by law and that the information subject to the access application consists of material revealing this.

2. Is there a lawful method or procedure for preventing, detecting, investigating or dealing with a contravention or possible contravention of the law?

a) Lawful

Schedule 3, section 10(1)(f) of the RTI Act does not provide a blanket protection for every method or procedure adopted by an agency.  The word ‘lawful’ means that disclosing information which could only prejudice an unlawful method or procedure for preventing, detecting, investigating or dealing with a contravention or possible contravention of the law is not exempt under schedule 3, section 10(1)(f) of the RTI Act.

b) Method or Procedure

It is not possible to list the types of methods or procedures which may qualify for protection under schedule 3, section 10(1)(f) of the RTI Act, as each case must be judged on its own merits.[2]

There is no definition of 'method' or 'procedure' in either the RTI Act or the Acts Interpretation Act 1954 (Qld).  Therefore, under the rules of statutory interpretation they should be given their ordinary meaning.

The Information Commissioner has previously considered the words 'system' and 'procedure' in relation to section 42(1)(h) of the repealed FOI Act, which may provide guidance for the interpretation of schedule 3, section 10(1)(f) of the RTI Act.  The Information Commissioner quoted the following dictionary definitions for 'system' when considering section 42(1)(h) of the FOI Act in Ferrier and Queensland Police Service (Ferrier):[3]

[an] organised scheme or plan of action, esp. a complex or comprehensive one; an orderly or regular procedure or method; (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary);

[a] co-ordinated body of methods, or a complex scheme or plan of procedure; (Macquarie Dictionary).

The Information Commissioner also indicated that the system or procedure must be 'sufficiently coherent, organised and comprehensive' for this section to apply.[4]

In The Gold Coast Bulletin and Department of Police[5], the RTI Commissioner was satisfied that police rosters comprised a 'method or procedure'. In reaching this conclusion, the RTI Commissioner found it relevant that the rosters:

  • were created by senior staff
  • took into account specific crime, social and traffic enforcement challenges relevant to the particular policing division; and
  • reflected the operational requirements of the station and methodologies employed to meet those requirements.

A method or procedure may also serve more than one purpose. It is therefore necessary to consider the ultimate purpose of the method or procedure. For example, in The Gold Coast Bulletin and Department of Police, the RTI Commissioner referred to comments in Chapman v Commissioner of Police when considering the purpose of police rostering:[6]

…rostering is a method for allocating staff to particular duties but…the ultimate aim of rostering police to perform particular duties at particular times is the prevention, detection and investigation of contraventions of the law…

c) contravention or possible contravention of the law

Section 36 of the Acts Interpretation Act 1954 (Qld), provides that 'contravene' includes both 'breach' and 'fail to comply with'. Therefore, contraventions or possible contraventions are not confined to the criminal law and may extend to 'any law which imposes an enforceable legal duty to do or refrain from doing some thing'.[7]

3. Is it reasonable to expect that disclosing the information could prejudice the effectiveness of the method or procedure?

a) Whether there is an expectation of prejudice to the effectiveness of the method or procedure

In addition to identifying the lawful method or procedure for preventing, detecting, investigating or dealing with a contravention of the law, a decision-maker relying on this exemption provision must explain how disclosing the information in issue could reasonably be expected to prejudice the effectiveness of the relevant system or procedure, that is, reduce its effectiveness or usefulness.[8] Essentially this means that the decision-maker must explain how the information could be used by an applicant or others to modify their behaviour or take actions which would compromise the effectiveness of the relevant method or procedure.[9]

In relation to the equivalent provision under the now repealed Freedom of Information Act 1992 (Qld), the Information Commissioner stated in T and Department of Health:[10]

23. … The question of whether or not the effectiveness of a method or procedure could reasonably be expected to be prejudiced by the disclosure of particular matter sought in an FOI access application, is the crucial judgment to be made in any case in which reliance of s.42(1)(e) is invoked.

24. There may be cases where the disclosure of particular matter will so obviously prejudice the effectiveness of law enforcement methods or procedures that the case for exemption is self-evident, but ordinarily in a review under Part 5 of the FOI Act it will be incumbent on an agency to explain the precise nature of the prejudice to the effectiveness of a law enforcement method or procedure that it expects to be occasioned by disclosure, and to satisfy me that the expectation of prejudice is reasonably based …

The passage of time also potentially impacts whether the exemption provision applies to particular information.  In T and Department of Health, the Information Commissioner noted:[11]

The test of a reasonable expectation of prejudice has to be applied according to an evaluation of the relevant circumstances prevailing at the time when a decision whether or not to claim the exemption is required to be given. There may well be cases where the giving of access to information at a particular stage in the process of using a law enforcement method or procedure will prejudice its effectiveness, but with the passage of time the threat of prejudice is removed.

The expectation of prejudice must exist as a result of disclosure of the information under consideration.  Disclosing information concerning the methods and procedures adopted by law enforcement agencies which are obvious and known to the community (eg interviewing and taking statements from witnesses to a crime) are not likely to prejudice the effectiveness of those methods or procedures[12] whereas disclosing information that reveals information about methods or procedures that are neither obvious nor a matter of public knowledge, is more likely to prejudice the effectiveness of those methods or procedures.[13]

In considering whether an expectation of prejudice arose from disclosing police rosters in The Gold Coast Bulletin and Department of Police, the RTI Commissioner considered it relevant that disclosure could result in the use of the information by third parties to further criminal activity and subvert the proper operation of the law.[14]

The RTI Commissioner considered that following disclosure, QPS would either have to ignore the risk that the information would be used to facilitate criminal activity, or change the method of rostering which would result in using a less than optimal rostering system.[15] As such, she was satisfied that there was an expectation of prejudice to the rostering system, arising from disclosure.

b) Whether that expectation is reasonably based

See 'Could reasonably be expected to' Annotation.

In The Gold Coast Bulletin and Department of Police, the RTI Commissioner considered past conduct to determine whether the expectation was reasonable.  QPS's submissions provided examples of ways in which criminals had previously used seemingly innocuous information to further criminal activity and the RTI Commissioner was satisfied that the expectation of prejudice was reasonably based.


  • 1 Isles and Queensland Police Service [2017] QICmr 1 (12 January 2017) (Isles), Flori and Queensland Police Service [2017] QICmr 5 (16 February 2017) (Flori), Eaves and Queensland Police Service [2017] QICmr 23 (30 June 2017), Kyriakou and Queensland Police Service [2017] QICmr 29 (9 August 2017), Kyriakou and Queensland Police Service [2017] QICmr 30 (9 August 2017), Kyriakou and Queensland Police Service [2017] QICmr 31 (9 August 2017),  Morse and Queensland Police Service [2017] QICmr 38 (31 August 2017) and Cutts and Queensland Police Service [2017] QICmr 39 (31 August 2017).
  • 2 T and Queensland Health (1994) 1 QAR 386 at paragraph 23 (T) decided under the FOI Act but the principles are relevant to schedule 3, section 10(1)(f) of the RTI Act.
  • 3 Ferrier and Queensland Police Service (1996) 3 QAR 350 at paragraph 28 (Ferrier) decided under the FOI Act but the principles are relevant to schedule 3, section 10(1)(f) of the RTI Act.
  • 4 Ferrier at paragraph 33.
  • 5 The Gold Coast Bulletin and Department of Police (Unreported, Queensland Information Commissioner 23 December 2010) (The Gold Coast Bulletin).
  • 6 Chapman v Commissioner of Police [2004] NSWADT 35 at paragraph 79.
  • 7 T at paragraph 16.
  • 8 VO and Department of Health (Unreported, Assistant Information Commissioner, 17 June 2002) at paragraph 13 (Vo).
  • 9 See for example: VO at paragraphs 23 to 25.
  • 10 (1994) 1 QAR 386.
  • 11 At paragraph [36].
  • 12 T at paragraph 32.
  • 13 T at paragraph 32.
  • 14 The Gold Coast Bulletin at paragraph 14.
  • 15 The Gold Coast Bulletin at paragraph 23.

Last updated: April 10, 2012