Exam scripts could constitute personal data, Advocate General tells European court

An Irish student has gained support from the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice to constitute exam scripts as personal data following 8 years of legal battles


An Irish accountancy trainee has gained support in the European Court of Justice from the Advocate General to constitute exam scripts as personal data, in an opinion published by the Advocate General on Thursday. This follows 8 years of legal battles.

Peter Nowak, a registered student with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ireland (CAI), sought to view his exam script after failing an exam four times in 2009. The CAI refused to release Nowak’s exam script on the grounds that the script was not personal data under data protection laws. However, the CAI did provide candidates with a chance to view their script at a particular time and under certain controlled conditions but Nowak did not avail of this opportunity. 

The Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) refused to investigate the formal complaint made by Nowak and said that it was not legally sustainable and therefore frivolous. Nowak unsuccessfully appealed to the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The case was referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The ECJ Advocate General has recommended that the court classify the exam script has personal data under EU data protection laws. According to the Irish Times, the German Advocate General, Juliane Kokott, at the ECJ said: “The script is a documentary record that the individual has taken part in the given examination and how he performed … The personal connection to that performance is also shown in the fact that examination candidates often include their most important examination results on their CV’s.”

In the opinion by Advocate General, the exam script notes a “strictly personal and individual performance” and thus is a “collection of personal data”.

A ruling is likely to take place in the autumn, referring back to the Supreme Court. The Advocate General’s opinion is not a ruling and the court does not have to follow the Advocate General’s line, but often does.

This article was amended at 7pm on 1 August 2017. The original headline read “Exam scripts constitute personal data, European Court of Justice rules”, which is incorrect. The article has also been clarified. The European court has not made a ruling on the case. The Advocate General has published an opinion supporting the registered student.

Seana Davis

Seana Davis is a fourth year Geology student and News Editor of Trinity News.