Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Criticism is not vexatious

The Taranaki Daily News reports an appalling decision by the taranaki Regional Council to cease processing OIA requests from three men, apparently because the responses had been used to "unfairly" criticise the council:

Three environmental campaigners have been told by the Taranaki Regional Council their "deliberately mischievous and plainly vexatious" questions will no longer be answered.

TRC chief executive Basil Chamberlain has told Ngaere landowners Sarah Roberts and David Morrison and South Taranaki District councillor Michael Self, any queries received from them will now be simply acknowledged and filed.


In the letter Mr Chamberlain said the three had "consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented information associated with hydraulic fracturing in Taranaki."

Their actions had been so numerous and consistent that "they cannot be considered as either innocently naive or simply incompetent. Rather your actions are deliberately mischievous and plainly vexatious."

They may very well be. But that does not make their requests vexatious. That requires that a request "be such that no reasonable person could properly treat it as bona fide (that is, having been made in good faith)" and that the requester be "patently abusing the rights granted by the legislation for access to information, rather than exercising those rights in good faith". Merely using the information for ill-conceived criticism does not meet that test. The Taranaki Regional Council is clearly breaking the law here, and the Ombudsman needs to remind them politely of their legal duties.