New Zealand Law Society - Ombudsman upholds NIWA refusal to release information

Ombudsman upholds NIWA refusal to release information

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The Office of the Ombudsman has released an opinion by the former Chief Ombudsman which upholds a refusal by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) to release information on an Australian peer review of a NIWA report.

The complainant had asked NIWA for information it hold on communications between itself and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology about the Bureau's peer review of information forming the basis for NIWA's Report on the Review of NIWA's 'Seven-Station' Temperature series.

The report, published on 16 December 2010 reviewed New Zealand temperature trends from seven different locations.

NIWA refused the requests under section 9(2)(ba)(i) of the Official Information Act 1982 on the basis that the information at issue was subject to an obligation of confidence.

NIWA said release of the information would prejudice the supply of similar information, and it was in the public interest that such information should continue to be supplied.

Dame Beverley Wakem's opinion was that section 9(2)(ba)(i) provided good reason to refuse the request.

She said that she took into account the importance of upholding a longstanding and widely accepted scientific convention. Under this convention scientists peer review information provided in confidence by other scientists.

"I am satisfied that, in accordance with longstanding scientific conventions, the information at issue was provided by NIWA to [the Bureau] on the basis that it would be peer reviewed in confidence. This is the very basis on which such peer reviewing is conducted," she said.

"I am satisfied that there is a real risk that NIWA's ability to supply information similar to the information at issue to [the Bureau] (or a similar organisation) would be prejudiced, if that information were released."