BKR and Queensland University of Technology
(1998 S0024, 30 June 1999)
In this 'reverse FOI' application, the applicant challenged the decision of the University to give the Queensland Nursing Council access to documents concerning his clinical performance (as an enrolled nurse, nearing the end of a course of study at the University which would give him a qualification necessary for accreditation as a registered nurse), and documents concerning his relationships with other persons at the University.
The Information Commissioner found that the documents in issue did concern the applicant's personal affairs, as they concerned his performance in a course of private study which he was undertaking, or concerned his relationships with other individuals. The documents in issue were therefore prima facie exempt from disclosure under s.44(1) of the FOI Act, and it was necessary to consider whether the public interest in disclosure of some or all of the documents in issue outweighed the public interest in protecting the privacy of information concerning the applicant's personal affairs.
The University and the Council argued that the balance of public interest favoured the Council obtaining access to information which would assist it in determining whether it should enrol or register a person to practise as a nurse, since the Council has a duty under the Nursing Act 1991 to ensure that only fit and competent persons are so accredited. (The Council had concerns about the applicant's fitness to practise as a nurse.) The applicant argued that adequate provision was made in the Nursing Act for the Council to satisfy itself on such matters, and that the Council should not be able to obtain access, under the FOI Act, to material which it could not obtain under the Nursing Act for that purpose.
The Information Commissioner found that disclosure to the Council of matter which related directly to the applicant's clinical abilities and competence would, on balance, be in the public interest. In respect of the other matter in issue, the Information Commissioner said that instances were readily foreseeable where disclosure to the Council of information about serious misconduct outside of nursing practice, but touching on considerations relevant to the functions of the Council, might warrant disclosure. However, the Information Commissioner indicated that there was a distinction to be drawn between the weight to be accorded to information about matters arising in a professional context and those arising in a personal context, and that not every private aspect of a person's life should necessarily be made available to the Council, given the balancing exercise inherent in s.44(1).
In this case, the Information Commissioner found that the information in issue concerning the applicant's relationships with other individuals at the University was not so serious as to justify disclosure to the Council, and that that information was exempt matter under s.44(1) of the FOI Act.