Monday, 23 February 2009

Northern Ireland Audit Office and 'Absolute Privilege'

My attention has been drawn to the following item from today's business in the Northern Ireland Assembly:

[Minister of Finance and Personnel]

A Bill to confer absolute privilege on certain reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland; ...

Absolute Privilege
An absolute defence to an otherwise defamatory statement because of the venue or context which the statement was made.
Why would NIAO or, indeed, any Government department need such powers? What about the human rights of a whistleblower or a complainant in the recent investigations in-house report carried out by the Department of Regional Development, a report more or less endorsed by the NIAO? Has Dormant become a Comedy of Errors in many acts? Do its departmental committees serve any useful purpose?

In its mission and values statement NIAO wishes to encourage 'propriety in the conduct of public business'. How would impropriety encourage propriety?