Request for draft audit report in relation to hospice
Audit still in process and at the draft reporting phases—s 9(2)(ba)(i) and 9(2)(ba)(ii) provide good reason to withhold—limited distribution of confidential drafts for comment has long been considered a sound administrative practice in the public sector—public interest met through disclosure of final audit report
Central Region’s Technical Advisory Services Ltd (TAS) (a shared services agency for the six central District Health Boards) withheld a draft audit report in relation to a hospice, under sections 9(2)(b)(ii), 9(2)(ba)(ii) and 9(2)(i) of the OIA. The requester complained to the Ombudsman.
We declined to release a copy of the draft report because by its very nature, a draft report may be inaccurate and contain various errors or omissions. We believe that the release of a draft report to any third party is therefore a breach of natural justice.
A draft report has not been subjected to scrutiny by the affected parties, there has been no opportunity to supply additional evidence, or to correct errors and omissions, and a draft report does not necessarily take the reader to the correct place from which to draw accurate conclusions...
...TAS has a formal process for the examination and assessment of provider (and DHB) feedback to ensure any additional evidence or suggested correction is given due consideration.
From a process perspective, it is particularly important to note that the audit is still in progress at the draft reporting phase, and is only complete once the final report has been issued...
At a programme level, our well-established approach to drafting audit reports offers both parties (the DHB and the provider) the opportunity to ensure that the final report is a true, accurate and fair reflection of performance.
This experience has ensured that providers have confidence in our processes which in turn has enabled TAS to add greater value to the process for those providers...
Release of draft reports to unrelated third parties risks undermining provider confidence and ultimately the effectiveness of our programme to the region's DHBs while exposing TAS to a breach of natural justice.
The Ombudsman concluded that section 9(2)(ba)(i) and (ii) of the OIA provided good reason to withhold the draft audit report.
The draft was prepared for the purpose of discussion or comment, on the understanding that it would be retained in confidence. It would not normally be envisaged that a draft report containing provisional conclusions or assumptions would be distributed to parties other than those directly involved in the first instance.
The preparation and circulation of such drafts is in the public interest, in that it assists in achieving a degree of accuracy and completeness that might not otherwise be possible.
The limited distribution of confidential drafts for comment has long been considered a sound administrative practice in the public sector.
Public disclosure of such information would either prejudice the provision of similar information to the agency concerned in future, or otherwise undermine the process that the circulation of draft reports is generally intended to achieve.
The Ombudsman also concluded that the public interest was met through disclosure of the final audit report. There was no particular public interest in disclosure of the draft report.
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.