Public Interest Disclosures Act
Guidelines and Standards
The Ombudsman is required to publish a number of guidelines and standards under the Public Interest Disclosures Act 2002. These guidelines assist with the interpretation and application of the Act.
Serious or significant improper conduct
One of the purposes of the Act is to encourage and facilitate disclosures of improper conduct by public officers and public bodies.
Improper conduct has a specific meaning under the Act. Section 3 of the Act states that improper conduct means –
(a) conduct that constitutes an illegal or unlawful activity; or
(b) corrupt conduct (a definition of corrupt conduct is also found in s 3); or
(c) conduct that constitutes maladministration; or
(d) conduct that constitutes professional misconduct; or
(e) conduct that constitutes a waste of public resources; or
(f) conduct that constitutes a danger to public health or safety or to both public health and safety; or
(g) conduct that constitutes a danger to the environment; or
(h) misconduct, including breaches of applicable codes of conduct; or
(i) conduct that constitutes detrimental action against a person who makes a public interest disclosure under this Act –
that is serious or significant as determined in accordance with guidelines issued by the Ombudsman; [emphasis added]
You can find a copy of the Ombudsman’s guideline as to what is considered serious or significant here:
This guideline is a critical tool in assessing whether any of the conduct falling within the list above meets the threshold of being ‘improper conduct’.
Procedures to be followed by Public Bodies
Public bodies are required to establish procedures under the Act for dealing with disclosures about improper conduct. Most public bodies make these procedures available on their websites.
The Ombudsman is required to review and approve large public bodies’ procedures every three years. One of the matters the Ombudsman considers in this process is whether the procedures comply with his guidelines and standards.
The Ombudsman has published guidelines and standards for the procedures to be followed by public bodies in relation to:
- disclosures under Part 2 of the Act
- investigations under Part 7 of the Act
- the protection of persons against reprisals by public bodies or members, officers or employees of public bodies because of protected disclosures
- the application of natural justice to all parties involved in an investigation of a public interest disclosure
You can find a copy of these guidelines and standards here:
You can find the Ombudsman’s model procedures for public bodies in Appendix B of these guidelines and standards. Public bodies can adapt these procedures to suit their requirements. A word version of the model procedures is available here:
Below is a flow chart that is included in the model procedures. This sets out the process under the Act for public bodies.