Former Justice Minister Bill Jeffries is calling for a change to the Privacy Act to give lawyers the same protection as the media after successfully defending an attempt to prosecute him for failing to release information received in confidence.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner took the case against Mr Jeffries after the Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that it could require him to hand over the information.
He had been given it as the lawyer for creditors of an American family, the Powells, who had bought a property on D'Urville Island.
The information related to when the Powells and their children arrived and left New Zealand. The commissioner's office believed knowing the source would help it investigate a complaint by the Powells against the Immigration Service.
The office asked for the name of the source, the date the information was supplied, whether Mr Jeffries asked for it or it was supplied unsolicited and copies of relevant documents or information.
Mr Jeffries had believed he had a right to protect his confidential source, and refused to comply with the office's order, arguing he had a "reasonable excuse".
That was based on his understanding that at the time he received the information the law would not make him betray his source.
The court accepted Mr Jeffries would not have used the information if he had doubted he could protect it.
District Court Judge Jill Moss this week upheld the "reasonableness of his excuse" and dismissed the office's prosecution.
A spokeswoman for the office yesterday said it was still looking at the judgment, and would not comment on it or a possible appeal.
Mr Jeffries said he was happy with the decision. "My profession had said I was outside the scope. She said fair enough."
But the Supreme Court's ruling meant a law change was needed.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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