New Zealand Law Society - Withholding of knighthood information endorsed by Ombudsman

Withholding of knighthood information endorsed by Ombudsman

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Former Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem has found there was good reason to withhold some information on the award of a knighthood to Sir Paul Collins.

The Ombudsman has published a case note on Dame Beverley's decision on an Official Information Act complaint relating to the withholding of information on the knighthood.

The request for all written material prepared by and considered by the Honours Unit in relation to Sir Paul's award, including meeting minutes and correspondence, was refused by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Sir Paul was knighted in the 2015 New Year's Honours.

The department refused the request under a number of Official Information Act provisions.

After personally viewing relevant material Dame Beverley consulted the Privacy Commissioner, who agreed there was a high privacy interest in the information, from the perspective of both the nominee and nominator.

Dame Beverley acknowledged there was a public interest in understanding the reasons for an award, but considered this had been met by the investiture information already in the public domain.

She was satisfied that the merits of the award could be fully and properly debated in public without the specific information about the nomination being released.

"The Chief Ombudsman noted that individuals may be deterred from making nominations or be less candid in giving reasons for doing so, if they thought they might be called upon to publicly justify their nomination. Release might also place nominees in a position where they felt morally obligated to their nominator (as they would not otherwise be aware who nominated them)."

Dame Beverley was of the opinion that there was good reason to withhold the information supplied by Sir Paul Collins and the individuals who supported his nomination.

There was a presumption of strong public interest in the protection of the Royal Honours process.

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