Exam scripts constitues as personal data rules European Court of Justice

The ECJ’s ruling follows eight years of legal battles through the High Court and Supreme Court.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that the exam script of an Irish student constitutes as personal data and should be allowed to be accessed by the student. The ECJ’s ruling follows over eight years of legal battles through the High Court and Supreme Court.

Peter Nowak, who was a student of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ireland (CAI) and an accounting trainee, wished 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 Irish Data Protection Acts. Nowak submitted a formal complaint to the Data Protection Commissioner to seek all personal data under Irish Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 held by the CAI.

The Data Protection Commissioner would not investigate the formal complaint, and said that the complaint was “frivolous and vexatious”, according to The Irish Times. Nowak proceeded to take legal action against the Data Protection Commissioner, where the case was referred to the Supreme Court in April 2016. The Supreme Court decided that this was a case of European law, and referred the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

The advocate general of the CJEU stated her opinion on the matter in July, arguing that the exam script notes a “strictly personal and individual performance” and thus is a “collection of personal data” under EU regulation. Although the opinion of the advocate general is not a legal ruling, the court’s decision usually aligns with that of the advocate general. The ECJ upheld the view of the advocate general, and ruled in favour of Nowak.

The ECJ stated that the rights of access to data provided for in European law “may also be asserted in relation to the written answers submitted by a candidate at a professional examination and to any comments made by an examiner with respect to those answers”. It was stated that this would be the case “irrespective of whether that candidate does or does not also have such a right of access under the national legislation”. The ECJ is Europe’s highest court.

Trinity has two levels of appealing examinations. The first level of appeal is within the course faulty, and is called The Faculty of First Appeals. The second is the Academic Appeals Committee. College currently has certain grounds whereby you can appeal an examination mark, such as medical reasons when taking an exam. There is also a final date where students can appeal following end of year examinations, which is in late June. Currently, beyond this date, students cannot appeal their exam script. Students sitting supplemental examinations can apply to the appeal process in September. During the process, the student and their tutor are interviewed by the Faculty of First Appeals Committee, where the committee is chaired by the Dean with relevant faculty members.

Seana Davis

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