Access-to-information reform to overturn court decision

Proposed changes to the province's access to information laws would reverse a Newfoundland and Labrador court of appeal decision that gave the province's information and privacy commissioner access to government documents.

Proposed changes to the province's access-to-information laws would reverse a Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal decision that gave the province's information and privacy commissioner access to government documents.

The amendment in Bill 29 would take away the commisioner’s right to review documents that the government withheld from the public claiming client-solicitor privilege — a power the commissioner won in a court battle last fall.

The amended legislation [(43.(1)(b)] says, "A person who makes a request under this Act for access to a record … may ask the commissioner to review a decision … except where the refusal by the head of the public body to disclose records or parts of them is based on solicitor and client privilege."

Last fall, the Court of Appeal overturned an earlier decision that denied the province's privacy commissioner access to documents that a government body claimed only a lawyer and a client should see.

Ed Ring is Newfoundland and Labrador's information and privacy commissioner. ((CBC))

The court ruled that commissioner Ed Ring should be allowed to review those documents to determine if he believed they should or shouldn’t be released.

At the time, Ring said he believed the Appeal Court made the right decision.

"Without having the information provided to us, then there was no way that this office could fulfill its mandate and provide an independent review," he said.

In a written decision, the Court of Appeal said a previous judge erred in law in declaring that the commissioner was not entitled to access some records.

Ring said he wasn't fighting for the documents that fall under client-solicitor privilege to be released to the public. He said he was fighting to do his job — to independently review documents and determine if they should or shouldn't be released.

Client-solicitor privilege is the right of a lawyer to keep any information given to him/her by a client strictly confidential.