home News European Court of Justice Rules Exam Scripts Amount To Personal Data

European Court of Justice Rules Exam Scripts Amount To Personal Data

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) have laid down a landmark ruling that exam scripts can be considered personal data. The ruling follows eight years of legal contention in the High Court and the Supreme Court by Irish student Peter Nowak. The ECJ case has been highly anticipated and attracted global attention, with the ECJ receiving submissions from seven EU states, as well as the European Commission.
Nowak, a trainee accountant and student of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ireland (CAI), requested to review his script for an exam he had failed four times with the aim of contesting the result, on the basis that the script constituted personal data under the Irish Data Protection Acts. This was disputed by the CAI, who refused the request. Nowak’s subsequent complaint to the Data Protection Commissioner was dismissed as being “frivolous and vexatious.” Consequently, Nowak initiated legal proceedings against the Data Protection Commissioner. The Supreme Court ultimately cited the matter as one concerning European law, and referred the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
The ECJ ruled in favour of Nowak and upheld the Opinion of the Advocate General of the CJEU that Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner was incorrect to say the trainee accountant had no right to view his examination script. The Advocate General stated that exam scripts are a “strictly personal and individual performance” and therefore constitute a “collection of personal data,” as per EU legislation. “The script is a documentary record that the individual has taken part in a given examination and how he performed,” the Advocate General explained. “The personal connection to that performance is also shown in the fact that examination candidates often include their most important examination results in their CVs.”
The ECJ, the most superior court in Europe, held that the right to access personal data under 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.” The ECJ stated this applied regardless of whether or not national legislation allowed for such a right.
UCC’s guidelines for the viewing of scripts and discussion of examination results in 2017 state that viewing of scripts is available to all students. Viewings are by arrangement through contacting the student’s relevant department(s). The following procedures apply: scripts are viewable only in the relevant department(s), application forms to access scripts are to be collected from and returned to these departments, writing on viewed examination scripts is not permitted, third parties are prohibited from viewing scripts, supervision while viewing scripts is mandatory, and those wishing to view their scripts must also make an appointment with their relevant department to discuss their examination results.