Request for details of course attended by prisoner

Privacy
Legislation:
Official Information Act 1982
Section 9
Legislation display text:
Official Information Act, s 9(2)(a)
Agency:
Department of Corrections
Ombudsman:
Sir Brian Elwood
Case number(s):
W42556
Issue date:
Language:
English

Request for details of course attended by prisoner—information withheld on privacy grounds—seriousness of offence did not extinguish right to privacy—studying was essential component of rehabilitation—public interest met by disclosure of tertiary institution and circumstances of attendance

The editor of a newspaper asked the Department of Corrections for details of a tertiary course a prisoner convicted of murder had been allowed out to enrol in. The request was declined in terms of section 9(2)(a) of the OIA.

It was confirmed that the prisoner had enrolled in his own name and while a class list was prepared and names called to check attendance, a list of students’ names was not distributed to the class. The prisoner indicated he did not want details of his course passed to the media.

In consultation with the Privacy Commissioner, it was accepted that although the offence for which the prisoner had been convicted was serious, that did not extinguish his right to privacy. It was concluded that there was a privacy interest which required protection in terms of section 9(2)(a).

Consideration still had to be given to whether there were any countervailing public interest considerations in terms of section 9(1) which outweighed the established privacy interest. It was relevant that the prisoner was taking the course as an essential component of his rehabilitation and ultimately as a step towards his reintegration into society. The Department had already released the name of the tertiary institution, the fact that the prisoner was escorted and supervised by two prison staff and confirmed that the lecturer was advised prior to the class of the prisoner’s intended presence. It was also confirmed the prisoner would be studying extramurally.

While details of the course in which the prisoner was enrolled may be interesting to the public, the public interest in favour of making available information about the prisoner’s enrolment in a course of study had been met by the information already disclosed by the Department. It was necessary to withhold the actual course details to reasonably protect the prisoner’s privacy and this was not outweighed by any countervailing public interest in disclosure.

This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.

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