The Right to Information Act 2009 provides members of the public with the right to obtain information held by public authorities and Ministers.
By doing so, the Act aims to improve democratic government by:
- increasing the accountability of government;
- increasing the ability of the public to participated in government decision making processes; and
- acknowledging that public authorities collect information for and on behalf of members of the public
The Department of Justice is a public authority under the Act.
The Act provides that information will be released through the following methods:
- required disclosure
- routine disclosure
- active disclosure
- assessed disclosure
Required disclosure is disclosure required by law, including under an enforceable agreement. An example is the requirement to publish an annual report, or a decision made under an enactment.
Routine disclosure is the disclosure of information which a public authority decides may be of interest to the public. An example of this might be a discussion paper in relation to a proposal for statutory reform.
Active disclosure is the disclosure of information in response to a request made other than by way of an application for assessed disclosure. An example is the provision of information to a citizen in response to a letter.
Assessed disclosure takes place as a result of a formal request through an application to the Department to release information. Assessed disclosure of information should only occur as a last resort as the Act as the Act requires the Department to put processes in place to make information freely available to the public through required, routine or active disclosures.
Consequently, the information that might be sought though an application for assessed disclosure may well already be in the public domain. Alternatively, the Department may decide to voluntarily release information for which an application for assessed disclosure has been made, without proceeding to a formal assessment of the information concerned.
All information must be disclosed, unless it is exempt information as defined by the Act. Further information on exemptions is contained in the Ombudsman’s Manual.