Friday, November 13, 2020

Bad Faith

How terrible is police compliance with the Official Information Act? Just look at today's OIA story. Way back in march, someone used FYI, the public OIA request system, to ask them for information on the "NZ Police Air Support Unit Expansion project". On 21 April, the last possible day, they extended the deadline until mid-June. Then, in mid-June, they said the information would be publicly release. In October, they said the response would be ready "in a week or two". And finally, yesterday, they refused it on numerous grounds, including free and frank advice, negotiations, and an alleged (but unsupported) allegation of "improper purpose".

What's wrong with this? Firstly, the decision to refuse on the basis that information would be publicly release requires that the agency must be reasonably certain that the requested information will be published in the near future. That requirement suggests that there should be a pre-existing intention to publish before the request was made, and that in turn suggests that a refusal on this basis should be able to be communicated rapidly. It should not take even 20 working days to get a response that information is going to be publicly released, let alone 50. Here, the response suggests public release is in fact being used to frustrate the purposes of the Act and withhold information.

Secondly, the timeframe: the Act requires public release to be "soon", which the Ombudsman interprets roughly as "within two months". The police took over four. That in itself is an illegal delay.

Thirdly, a refusal on the basis of anticipated public release implies that that release will actually happen. An agency cannot just change their mind and issue a new refusal citing other grounds. That is both an illegally late decision, and suggests that the original decision to release was made in bad faith, purely to secure a delay. Neither is acceptable.

Wouldn't it be nice if the police, an agency supposedly dedicated to upholding the law, actually obeyed it for once?