Posted on March 11, 2011 by Frances Tse

Easier Access To Agendas And Minutes Of Closed Part Of Council Meetings

The Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act), has made it easier for a person to access local councils’ agendas, business papers and minutes of closed parts of council meetings.

This is because the GIPA Act states that there is a presumption in favour of disclosure of government information, unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure (see s5). This is to be contrasted with the repealed Freedom of Information Act 1989 which denied access to exempt documents, and then specified circumstances where the exemption did not apply (effectively a presumption against disclosure in relation to those exempt documents).

The GIPA Act does provide a list of certain information of which there is a conclusive presumption of an overriding public interest against disclosure, meaning that information is not required to be released (see s14(1) and Schedule 1).

Documents relating to a closed part of a council meeting do not automatically fall within that list, although they may depending on the subject matter of the documents.

Therefore, if an access application is made under the GIPA Act for documents relating to a closed part of a council meeting, and the documents do not fall within the list referred to above, the council must undertake a balancing exercise of the public interest considerations for and against disclosure, and can refuse access to those documents if, and only if, the public interest considerations against disclosure outweigh the public interest considerations in favour of disclosure.

The GIPA Act also limits what can be considered as ‘public interest considerations against disclosure’.

Additionally, councils must keep in mind that,

  • the fact that disclosure of information might cause embarrassment to, or a loss of confidence in the council is irrelevant in determining whether to grant access, and
  • councils may provide access to a document but delete information that it has decided to refuse to provide access to.

Each access application council receives must be given careful consideration to ensure a decision of whether or not to provide access does not offend the GIPA Act.