Section 42(1)(b) of the FOI Act – Matter relating to law enforcement or public safety
The applicant applied to Redland City Council (Council) for access to the name of persons who made complaints in relation to property and animals of the applicant (FOI Application). Following consultation between the applicant and the Council the scope of the FOI Application was narrowed to complaints made by the “barking dog complainant” (Complainant) about the applicant or his property. The Council released four documents subject to the removal of information identifying the Complainant under sections 42(1)(b) and 44(1) of the Freedom of Information (FOI Act) (Original Decision). The applicant sought internal review on the basis that there was a reasonable public interest in the disclosure of the Complainant’s name under the FOI Act.
On internal review, the Council affirmed the Original Decision.
The applicant applied to the Information Commissioner for external review. The applicant advanced public interest arguments in favour of disclosure in response to Council’s claim that the matter qualified for exemption under section 44(1) of the FOI Act. The applicant asserted that the complainant was motivated by malice and that the complaints were unsubstantiated.
The Council submitted that:
· the complainant was a confidential source of information for the purposes of section 42(1)(b) of the FOI Act
· Council’s Customer Charter specifically commits Council to keep complainants’ details confidential
· Council’s ability to effectively administer and enforce local laws relies heavily on information provided by members of the community on a confidential basis.
Acting Assistant Commissioner Jefferies observed that documents released to the applicant indicated that at least some of the complaints were substantiated and there was nothing to indicate that they were ‘false’ as alleged by the applicant, whilst noting that nothing turned on the veracity or otherwise of the complaints.
A/AC Jefferies applied the principles set out in McEniery and Medical Board of Queensland (1994) 1 QAR 349 and found that:
· the Council’s Customer Charter provides assurance that a complainant’s personal details will be kept confidential
· there was a common implicit understanding between Council and the Complainant that the Complainant’s identity would remain confidential
· the information provided by the complainant related to the enforcement or administration of the law
· there was a reasonable basis for the expectation that disclosing the matter in issue would enable the identity of the Complainant to be ascertained.
In light of the finding on the 42(1) (b) of the FOI Act, it was unnecessary for A/AC Jefferies to consider the application of section 44(1) of the FOI Act to the information in issue.