Request for railway operator’s policies and procedures provided to Police
Section 9(2)(ba)(i) OIA did not apply—release of relatively straightforward practice and procedure documents would not be likely to prejudice the future supply of similar information—public interest in releasing information to victim that goes to causes of accident—information released
Lawyers for the victim of a rail accident asked the New Zealand Police for copies of policies and procedures supplied by the railway operator. The Police refused the request under section 9(2)(ba)(i) of the Official Information Act (OIA), and the requester complained to the Ombudsman.
The Chief Ombudsman reviewed a copy of the information at issue, and considered the application of section 9(2)(ba)(i).
Section 9(2)(ba)(i) provides good reason for withholding (subject to a public test) when releasing information that is ‘subject to an obligation of confidence’ would be likely to prejudice the supply of similar information, or information from the same source, and it is in the public interest that such information should continue to be supplied.
The Chief Ombudsman accepted that the information was provided to the Police subject to an obligation of confidence. He also accepted that the Police need to be able to gather all relevant information when undertaking a criminal investigation, and that this task may be compromised in situations where they are unable to guarantee that they will hold the information in confidence.
However, the information at issue in this case comprised relatively straightforward practice and procedure documents that the Police should be able to obtain in most circumstances without a firm guarantee of confidentiality. The Chief Ombudsman was not persuaded that releasing this type of information would be likely to prejudice the future supply of similar information.
The Chief Ombudsman added that, even if section 9(2)(ba)(i) applied, there were significant countervailing public interest considerations favouring disclosure of the information. In particular, there was a public interest in disclosure to a rail accident victim of information relating to the causes of the accident. Information about the safety procedures and practices that had been implemented by the railway operator at the time of the accident was relevant in this regard.
After considering the Chief Ombudsman’s comments the Police decided to release the information at issue to the requester, 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.