Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
A Domestic Violence Bill presently before the NZ Parliament will give greater protection to victims of domestic violence. The Bill extends the range of persons including married and de facto partners and their children (who were the only people covered in the 1982 Act which is replaced by this Bill), to partners of the same sex 'who are or have been living in a relationship of the nature of marriage', 'family members', 'persons who ordinarily share a household' and 'persons who have a close personal relationship'.
The Privacy Commissioner, Bruce Slane, has reported to the Minister for Justice on the Bill's innovative provisions concerning release of information contained on public registers relating to persons who are protected by a protection order. The Bill will enable a protected person to apply to the agency which is responsible for administering any 'public register' (as defined in s 58 of the Privacy Act 1993) for a direction that information that is, or is about to be, included on that register (and this discloses, or is likely to disclose, the whereabouts of that person) is not to be made available to the public. The agency may make the direction if it is satisfied that it would not unduly compromise the register and that declining to make the direction would be likely to prejudice the safety of the applicant. Where an agency declines to make a direction the applicant may complain to the Privacy Commissioner. The provisions will not affect the ability of the police or officials to use the information since it is deemed to remain on the register and the suppression only relates to searches by the public. The clauses have drawn upon similar provisions in the NSW Privacy and Data Protection Bill.
The Privacy Commissioner sought the inclusion of these provisions in the belief that they would assist in a practical way with the very real issues of personal safety. Legal protection alone is often insufficient to protect members of society from domestic violence. Sometimes those subjected to violence find that protection not in legal mechanisms, like protection orders, but through physically distancing themselves from the source of danger. However, those individuals' safety can be undermined if they are obliged to provide their residential address to a public authority which then places that detail on a register available for all to search.
New Zealand has some experience with similar provisions enabling suppression of details on the electoral roll and the motor vehicle register. However the new provisions will involve supervision of the process by the Privacy Commissioner and involve a wider variety of registers (currently over 50 statutory provisions have been declared to be 'public register provisions').
The Privacy Commissioner has suggested further refinement of the Bill to provide for legitimate release of information in circumstances consistent with use of the particular register and on notice to the individual concerned. It is expected that the Bill will pass this year.