Thursday, June 28, 2012

Blatantly unlawful

When the government introduced National Standards for primary schools, there was a lot of concern about league tables. The government is not compiling them itself, but as schools are required to collect information, the door is open for media organisations to OIA it and compile their own tables. The Dominion-Post is currently doing this in the Wellington region, causing the NZEI - the primary teacher's union - to advise schools to simply refuse OIA requests for such information, and instead refer them to the Ministry.

This is of course blatantly unlawful. The information exists. It is official information. It is held by the schools. They therefore have an obligation to answer. As for transfers, they are only lawful when another body holds the information or is better suited to answer it. Neither is true in this case.

If schools follow the NZEI's advice, I expect the cases will be very easy for the Ombudsman to decide.

Meanwhile, I think the possibility that statutory bodies would deliberately and wilfully ignore the OIA shows the need for criminal penalties for such breaches. This is a core New Zealand law. And public officials need to be held to account when they violate it.