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Public Services Ombudsman Act (Northern Ireland) 2016

Part 4: Miscellaneous and General

Part 4 contains other miscellaneous provisions about the functions of the NIPSO.  It obliges the NIPSO to make reports.  It gives the NIPSO protection from defamation proceedings for statements made in exercising the functions of the office.  It regulates the disclosure of information by the NIPSO.  It obliges co-operation with other ombudsmen.  It also sets out the power for the NIPSO or a person aggrieved to apply to a court, following an investigation, in order to remedy any maladministration discovered by that investigation.

Section 43: Reports on investigations

The NIPSO must send a copy of a report on an investigation to the people concerned with that investigation.

Section 44: Publication of reports on investigations in the public interest

The NIPSO may publish a report if it is thought in the public interest to do so.  The NIPSO must first consult with any persons that the report is about.

Section 45: Publication of reports on own initiative investigations

If the NIPSO has launched an own initiative investigation, a report on that investigation must be published.

Section 46: Reports to the Assembly

The NIPSO has several reporting obligations to the Assembly.  Firstly, the NIPSO must lay an annual report before the Assembly on what the NIPSO has done during the year.  Secondly, in a particular case where an injustice has been uncovered by the NIPSO but not remedied, a report on that case can be laid before the Assembly.  Thirdly, if an own initiative investigation has been launched, the NIPSO must report on this to the Assembly.  Finally, the NIPSO has discretion to make any other reports to the Assembly thought suitable.

Section 47: Reports and privileged information

A report must not disclose the content of information subject to legal privilege.

Section 48: Privilege for certain publications

The NIPSO is protected from defamation proceedings for statements published in connection with the performance of functions under the Act.  A person aggrieved is protected for publication, in the course of communication with the NIPSO, in connection with an investigation.

Section 49: Disclosure of information

Information obtained by the NIPSO is to be kept confidential, save for certain purposes.  Those purposes include making decisions about investigations, publishing reports, giving assistance in the prosecution of certain criminal offences, protecting the health or safety of the public, etc.

Section 50: Disclosure contrary to public interest

This section gives a power to Ministers and the Secretary of State to prevent the NIPSO disclosing information where it is not in the public interest to do so.  It also requires the Secretary of State and the NIPSO to agree a memorandum of understanding concerning the exercise of their functions in relation to this section.  This memorandum of understanding could make it easier for the NIPSO and Secretary of State to liaise in advance over material which it would not be in the public interest to disclose.  The NIPSO must lay a copy of the agreed memorandum, and any revisions to it, in the Assembly.

Section 51: Consultation and co-operation with other ombudsmen

If the NIPSO is investigating something that another ombudsman is investigating, the NIPSO must consult that other ombudsman.  Furthermore, the NIPSO may co-operate with that other ombudsman, for example by disclosing information, working together or jointly publishing a report.  This consultation and co-operation only applies where the other ombudsman is one of those referred to in subsection (4).  Subsection (4) lists ombudsmen and commissions from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.  The NIPSO can also work with the Ombudsman from the Republic of Ireland where the investigation concerns a North / South Implementation body.

Sections 52 and 53: County court applications by a person aggrieved

These two sections grant a person aggrieved the right to apply to the county court for compensation.  There must first have been a finding by the NIPSO that the person has suffered an injustice.  The action is against the listed authority which has caused the injustice. In addition to ordering compensation, the county court can make any other order it thinks appropriate (for example directing the listed authority to do something to right the wrong).  The claim itself must be made by an individual.

Sections 54 and 55: High Court applications by the Attorney General

These two sections grant the right to the Attorney General to apply to the High Court in cases of systemic maladministration.  There must first have been a finding by the NIPSO of systemic maladministration and a request from the NIPSO to the Attorney General to make this application.  Unlike applications to the county court, this type of application is not made by an individual complainant but by the Attorney General.  The High Court has the power to order the listed authority involved to do, or not to do, a particular thing. Where the matter being investigated relates to professional judgement (see sections 15, 16 and 17) then rather than looking at systemic maladministration, the test is whether systemic injustice has been sustained as a result of this judgement.

Section 56: Court proceedings and privileged information

Information which is subject to legal privilege (for example lawyer/client advice) cannot be used in any of these two types of court proceedings.

Section 57: Supplementary provision in relation to court proceedings

The court may rely upon what the NIPSO states in any report as being correct, unless there is some evidence to the contrary.

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Text created by the Northern Ireland Assembly department responsible for the subject matter of the Act to explain what the Act sets out to achieve and to make the Act accessible to readers who are not legally qualified. Explanatory Notes accompany all Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

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