New Zealand Law Society - Ombudsman recommends SSC apology over document leaks

Ombudsman recommends SSC apology over document leaks

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Ombudsman Ron Paterson has published an opinion on an inquiry into the leak of MFAT documents.

He has made a recommendation that the State Services Commission offer a public apology to former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Derek Leask, reimburse him for actual and reasonable expenses, compensate him for harm to reputation, and review its guidance for future inquiries under the State Services Act 1988.

This investigation was triggered by a complaint about an inquiry by the State Services Commission (SSC), which culminated in the publication of the Report to the State Services Commissioner on the Investigation into the Possible Unauthorised Disclosure of Information Relating to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (the Final Report).

State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie released the Final Report publicly on 12 December 2013.

The complainant, Derek Leask, was a former New Zealand High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. He retired in November 2012, after more than 40 years' service at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).

Mr Leask was the subject of significant criticism in the Final Report. He complained to the Ombudsman that he had been treated unfairly.

Professor Paterson says the State Services Commissioner had an important role in ensuring the integrity and trustworthiness of the public sector in the face of serious concerns over leaks of official information.

"Mr Rennie clearly needed to commence an inquiry into the leaks and to publicly report on its findings, given his broad statutory mandate under the State Services Act 1988."

Professor Paterson says his review has identified numerous flaws in the inquiry, undertaken by Paula Rebstock on behalf of the Commissioner, in relation to Mr Leask.

"He was not responsible for the leaks that prompted the inquiry. Publication of a flawed report caused significant damage to Mr Leask's reputation and resulted in serious, unwarranted and adverse professional, personal and financial consequences for him."

In relation to Mr Leask, Professor Paterson says the SSC acted unreasonably during the inquiry and in the findings and publication of the Final Report.