New Zealand Law Society - Bain legal aid information of public interest

Bain legal aid information of public interest

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Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has released a case note on a request for information about David Bain's contributions to his legal aid.

A journalist's request under the Official Information Act 1982 for the Legal Services Commissioner was refused on the grounds of privacy (section 9(2)(a)) and confidentiality (section 9(2)(ba)(i)). The Ministry of Justice, which employs the Commissioner, said it had previously released a significant amount of information about the grants of legal aid, which came to $3.33 million.

Noting that it was an exceptional case as generally legal aid recipients can expect privacy, Judge Boshier says good reason did not exist to withhold all of the information under the OIA.

While he found that the obligations of privacy and confidence were engaged in the case, Judge Boshier found that to some extent they were outweighed by factors favouring release of the information in the public interest.

The fact that the total amount of Mr Bain's grants was the highest for one person in New Zealand's history was relevant. 

Given the significant expenditure of public money, there was a high public interest in the transparency of the administration of his grants of legal aid, assessment, the collection of any contributions and the accountability of officials administering those grants.

He decided that the public interest favoured release of some of the requested information, and this outweighed the interests to be protected by withholding it.

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