Requests for information
18.1In providing assistance requested under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1992 (MACMA), the Central Authority may need to seek information, including personal information, from a domestic government department or agency. While MACMA contains provisions under which the Central Authority can seek some assistance from a domestic government department or agency, it contains no provision that empowers the Central Authority to seek information.
18.2We understand that, once the Central Authority has approved an incoming request for information, the information it requires to satisfy that request will often be obtained from the relevant domestic agency via a request under the Official Information Act 1982. We do not view this as an appropriate use of the Official Information Act. However, without the Official Information Act:
- the Central Authority does not have a statutory framework that compels an agency to respond within a given timeframe, there is no requirement for an agency to prioritise the request from the Central Authority, and, as a result, it may languish.
- it is not clear whether the information holder can release the requested information under the Privacy Act 1993. The Central Authority is required to consider whether or not to approve a request from a foreign country subject only to the criteria expressly stated in MACMA. These criteria do not refer to the Privacy Act or any of its principles. On the other hand, the holder of the information is subject to the Privacy Act. While the Privacy Act permits a domestic agency to disclose personal information to ensure the maintenance of the law, this exception does not appear to extend to the maintenance of foreign law.
18.3Information requests under MACMA are made under the general section 5 provision. This chapter examines in detail the current position with respect to obtaining information pursuant to a section 5 MACMA request. This highlights the inadequacy of the current state of the law and the need for clarification. We also briefly discuss a similar issue that arises in respect to another common request made under section 5, this being the interviewing of voluntary witnesses.