Request for details of out-of-court settlement of a personal grievance
Request for terms of settlement and amount paid—out-of-court settlement—s 9(2)(ba)(ii) applied—no countervailing public interest
This request by a private individual was for a copy of the terms of settlement and the amount paid by a Crown Health Enterprise (CHE) in an out-of-court settlement of a personal grievance. A number of grounds were advanced for withholding the information, but from discussion with the CHE’s lawyers it was clear that section 9(2)(ba)(ii) of the OIA appeared to be the most relevant provision.
In this case a key factor in settlement being reached was mutual agreement between the parties that the terms of settlement and the amount paid would be held in confidence. In considering cases of this nature certain general principles have emerged:
it is in the public interest for public sector agencies to be able to reach settlement in appropriate cases;
if agreeing to hold certain information in confidence is necessary to achieve such settlement, then there is a public interest in public sector agencies being able to honour any promise of confidentiality given in such circumstances;
if disclosure of information would prejudice the ability of public sector agencies to maintain promises of confidentiality and thereby achieve settlement in appropriate cases, then disclosure ‘would be likely to otherwise damage the public interest’ for the purposes of section 9(2)(ba)(ii).
In this case, it was concluded that section 9(2)(ba)(ii) applied and no public interest considerations in terms of section 9(1) were identified which outweighed the need to withhold the information.
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.