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High Court can’t make Groser provide TPPA information faster

High Court says it can’t make Groser provide TPPA information faster ‘for now’

‘This week we went back to court to challenge Trade Minister Groser’s stalling tactics over the release of information on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations, following a High Court order that he reconsider the Official Information Act request I made last January’, said University of Auckland law professor Jane Kelsey, first applicant in the case.

The Minister took a month to respond to the court’s decision, despite the urgency of the request and the imminence of the signing of the TPPA. He then set out a process for reviewing the request, rather than an actual response. The ministry had so far located just one category of information: New Zealand’s negotiating mandates dating back to the start of the negotiations. However, the officials were too busy and the Minister was overseas, so no response could be provided until 5 February 2016, conveniently the day after the expected signing of the agreement.

The applicants asked the court to order the Minister to provide the information by mid-December.

In a decision released yesterday, Justice Collins acknowledged the return to court reflected ‘intense frustration’ at the ongoing delays. However, said he was unable ‘at this juncture’ to make orders that could realistically speed up the process for release of the negotiating mandate documents.

The Minister was expected to respond within the next week to an interim refinement of the other categories of information requested. Justice Collins said it would not be appropriate to make any order until that was done.

The judge cautioned the Minister and his advisers that ‘there should be no further delays in responding fully and properly to Professor Kelsey’s request’.

‘Given the Minister’s behaviour to date, however, I fully expect further stonewalling to avoid the release of any substantive information before the Agreement is signed or while it is before the Parliament’, Professor Kelsey said.

The court also noted that the Chief Ombudsman has still not concluded her review of two remaining aspects of the Minister’s refusal to release the information in February that was referred to her as ‘urgent’ in March.

The applicants retain the right to return to court again to seek further orders and directions in relation to the November judgement.

ENDS

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