Request for information relating to request for inquiry into convictions of Peter Ellis
Dr Lynley Hood and Dr Don Brash, the complainants, requested information held by the Ministry of Justice relating to their request to the Minister of Justice, Hon Amy Adams (the Minister), for a Commission of Inquiry into the Peter Ellis case. In response to their request, the Ministry released certain material, including Ministry advice to a previous Minister of Justice, Hon Simon Power, and Crown Law advice in 2009 on the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry. The complainants complained about the Minister’s refusal to release the following information:
drafts of a letter sent to the complainants responding to their request for a Commission of Inquiry; and
information redacted from emails between Ministry officials and the Minister’s office in reliance on section 9(2)(g)(i) (maintenance of the effective conduct of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinions) of the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA).
The Ministry provided the Ombudsman with copies of the draft letters and unredacted copies of the emails. The emails and the draft letters show the officials, after discussion with the Minister‘s office, settled the form of the letter the Minister sent to the complainants, reflecting the Minister’s opinion there was no justification for a Commission of Inquiry. A reading of the emails shows officials going about their work in an open and frank way.
I formed the opinion that the Ministry was entitled to withhold the information at issue in reliance on section 9(2)(g)(i). In my opinion, the release of that information would inhibit the future free and frank exchange of opinions between officials and Ministers. Officials must be able to express their opinions on relevant issues freely and frankly—that is an essential ingredient of the climate necessary for the effective conduct of public affairs.