Public Interest Test

The public interest has been described as a term embracing matters, among others, of standards of human conduct and of the functioning of government and government instrumentalities tacitly accepted and acknowledged to be for the good order of society and for the wellbeing of its members.  The interest is therefore the interest of the public as distinct from the interest of an individual or individuals.

An important thing to note about this test is that it has a presumption in favour of disclosure. The burden is on the public authority to show that the public interest in withholding the information is greater than the public interest in disclosure. In addition, there may be factors that make the public interest in disclosing the particular information requested, for example:

  • The information relates to an issue that affects a large number of people;
  • it sheds light on how public funds are being spent;
  • it deals with a matter that is a subject of public controversy;
  • disclosure would help individuals to make more informed choices on important matters.

Section 35 of the FOIA states “Notwithstanding any law to the contrary a public authority shall give access to an exempt document where there is reasonable evidence that significant:

  • Abuse of authority of neglect in the performance of official duty; or
  • Injustice to an individual; or
  • Danger to the health or safety of an individual or of the public; or
  • Unauthorised use of public funds has or is likely to occur.”

It is also important to note that, although the Act make provisions for the exemption of certain classes of information, these exemptions are not absolute and can be over-ridden if the disclosure of the information can be deemed in the interest of the Public. Disclosure of Exempt Documents in the public interest.

Click this link to view a process map for treating with exemptions and the public interest test.