Request for copy of report about resource teachers of Maori
Request to Minister of Education for report about resource teachers of Maori—request refused under s 18(d)—two months later report still not available—no reason under OIA to withhold information—Minister agreed to release report—release further delayed for purpose of consulting Associate Minister
A political party researcher sought a copy of a report prepared about resource teachers of Maori. The Minister refused the request under section 18(d) of the OIA on the grounds that it would soon be publicly available. Some two months later the requester complained that the report had still not been made available.
Section 18(d) provides that a request made in accordance with section 12 of the OIA may be refused if ‘the information requested is or will soon be publicly available’. This provision is not a ‘good reason’ for withholding information, but is simply authority for refusing a request made under section 12 in particular circumstances, for example, because release of the information is imminent or the information at issue is being printed so that there would be difficulties in providing it immediately. In such a case, it is good practice to provide the requester with a specific date of release or details of the perceived difficulty in meeting the request.
Given that the principle of availability set out in section 5 of the OIA requires that ‘information shall be made available unless there is good reason for withholding it’, and that section 18(d) is not a ‘good reason’, its use as a ground for refusal of a request should not undermine any of the purposes of the Act set out in section 4 of the OIA. If refusal of information relying upon section 18(d) has the effect of thwarting the purposes of the OIA, it would be contrary to the spirit and intent of the OIA.
In respect of the request at issue, enquiries made of officials in both the Minister’s office and the Ministry of Education established that there was no reason in terms of the withholding grounds identified in the OIA for withholding the report. On this basis, it was said that the information would be released to the requester without further delay. However, there was then a further 10 day delay because it was decided that the Associate Minister of Education, who had particular responsibility for Maori education had to be consulted before the report was released. The report was therefore released some three months after it had been requested.
The Minister’s attention was drawn to the requirements of section 18(d) and he was asked to ensure that his staff were made aware of those requirements.
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.