Request for Police prosecution file
Section 9(2)(a) OIA applied—low privacy interest in information that was either known to the requester or publicly available was outweighed by the public interest in the requester knowing the full details of the accident that led to her mother’s death—remaining information properly withheld on privacy grounds
A woman asked the New Zealand Police for information about the prosecution of an offender for a motor vehicle accident in which her mother had died. The Police released the file but withheld some information about the offender and other individuals in order to protect their privacy. The daughter complained to the Ombudsman.
The Chief Ombudsman requested a copy of the information at issue and an explanation of the reasons for withholding. She consulted the Privacy Commissioner and the offender before forming the opinion that some of the information should have been released.
Section 9(2)(a) of the Official Information Act (OIA) provides good reason for withholding (subject to a public interest test) if it is necessary to protect the privacy of natural persons.
Information that should have been released
The Chief Ombudsman considered that some of the information at issue should have been released because the low privacy interest in that information was outweighed by the public interest in disclosure. This included information about the offender’s drug use, which might ordinarily have attracted a high privacy interest.
The privacy interest in this information was low because it was already known to the requester through prior disclosures, or publicly available.
The Privacy Commissioner noted that, with the passage of time, the offender’s privacy interest in the information may have increased, as reports about the accident and surrounding events dropped out of circulation. However, she did not think the intervening period had been sufficient to substantially increase the offender’s privacy.
The primary public interest consideration favouring disclosure was in the daughter, who was a victim of the offence, being aware of the full circumstances leading to the car accident that resulted in her mother’s death. A secondary public interest consideration was in promoting the accountability of public health services for their interaction with the offender.
Information that was properly withheld
The Chief Ombudsman considered that some of the information at issue was properly withheld in order to protect the privacy of the offender and other individuals. This information included:
- witness information (such as the contact details of various witnesses, extracts deleted from some of the statements made to the Police and curriculum vitae material);
- certain statements made by the offender about other people;
- Police records and ‘person dossiers’ relating to a number of individuals; and
- certain medical and other personal information relating to the offender.
The Chief Ombudsman considered that the public interest in disclosure would be met by the information described above, and it was not necessary to disclose this personal information about the offender and other individuals.
The Police agreed to disclose the information in line with the Chief Ombudsman’s opinion and the complaint was resolved.
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.