Ombudsman – withholding Banks’ full statement to Police “was not justified”

The Ombusdman has recommended that a reacted version of John Banks’ statement to police is given to NZ Herald and Labour – after the current court proceedings have concluded.

In relation to requests by NZ Herald (David Fisher) and Labour (Kate Challis) for a copy of the statement provided by the Hon John Banks to the Police in the course of their investigation into alleged irregularities in respect of electoral funding donations the Ombudsman has ruled:

I have formed the opinion that in September and October 2012 the Police had good reason to refuse parts of the statement under those provisions but that the decision to withhold the statement in full was not justified.

He has recommended “that the Police release a redacted statement to the requesters once the related court proceedings against Mr Banks have concluded.”

So that won’t have any immediate effect, it will have to wait until the current court proceedings are complete.

Ombudsman’s role:

As an Ombudsman, I am authorised to investigate and review, on complaint, any decision by which a Minister or agency subject to the OIA refuses to make official information available when requested. My role in undertaking an investigation is to form an independent opinion as to whether the request was properly refused.

Summary

David Fisher of The New Zealand Herald and Kate Challis of the Office of the Labour Leader requested a copy of the statement provided by the Hon John Banks to the Police in the course of their investigation into alleged irregularities in respect of electoral funding donations.

The allegations pertained to the 2010 Auckland Super City Mayoral election in which Mr Banks was a candidate for the mayoralty. The statement was withheld pursuant to sections 9(2)(a) and 9(2)(ba) of the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA). I have formed the opinion that in September and October
2012 the Police had good reason to refuse parts of the statement under those provisions but that the decision to withhold the statement in full was not justified. 

Ombudsman’s opinion and recommendation

49. For the reasons set out above, I have formed the opinion that in September and October 2012 the Police had good reason to withhold parts of Mr Banks’ statement under sections 9(2)(a) and 9(2)(ba)(ii) of the OIA, but the decision to withhold the statement in full was not justified.

50. I recommend that the Police release a redacted statement to the requesters once the related court proceedings against Mr Banks have concluded. I have stipulated that the release be delayed because although I consider the OIA did not provide good reason to withhold the majority of the statement at the time the Police made its decision on the requests, in light of subsequent events, disclosure at the present time would be likely to prejudice Mr Banks’ right to a fair trial (section 6(c) of the OIA). Accordingly, a recommendation to disclose before the conclusion of the pending court proceedings would be c ontrary to one of the purposes of the OIA which is “to protect official information to the extent consistent with the public interest …” (section 4(c) of the OIA).

Full report (PDF).

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