Request for information about Pike River Mine
Section 6(c) OIA applied—release of information directly relevant to the Royal Commission of Inquiry would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of the Inquiry
A journalist asked the Department of Labour for technical reports on gas levels at the Pike River Mine (301633) and Pike River Mine plans, notifications and reports (301637). The Department refused the requests under section 6(c) of the OIA, and the requester complained to the Ombudsman.
Section 6(c) provides good reason to withhold official information where release would be likely ‘to prejudice the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, investigation, and detection of offences, and the right to a fair trial’.
In the context of the Pike River tragedy, there were three ongoing investigations. One was the Police criminal investigation, the second was the health and safety investigation by the Department, and the third was the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy.
The Police and health and safety investigations fell squarely within the established scope of section 6(c), being directly connected with a process of enforcing the law by ensuring compliance or investigating non-compliance with legal rules or standards. However, the Chief Ombudsman also accepted that section 6(c) could apply where release of information would prejudice the conduct of the Royal Commission of Inquiry.
She concluded that premature release of any information which fell to be considered by the Department in the course of its investigation, and which the Department was required to produce to the Police or to the Royal Commission for the purposes of their inquiries, ran the real or substantial risk of undermining all three of the investigations underway.
In the Chief Ombudsman’s view, it was essential that these investigations, which were designed to consider not only accountability for what happened, but how to avoid such a tragedy in the future, were able to be carried out without risk of interference to the ability of the Police officers, Departmental investigators or Commissioners to reach their conclusions.
The Chief Ombudsman noted that judgement must be exercised as to the relevance of the information to the matters under inquiry. She considered that the information at issue was likely to be directly relevant to the investigations and inquiries underway.
The Chief Ombudsman formed the opinion that there was good reason to withhold the information in order to avoid prejudice to the maintenance of the law, including the effective conduct of the Royal Commission into the Pike River Mine Tragedy.
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.