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Porsche driver convicted of dangerous driving takes claim against police to Human Rights Review Tribunal

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Stephen Rendell was driving a Porsche, similar to the one pictured, when he was caught driving dangerously.

The driver of a Porsche who was convicted of dangerous driving has partially won a case in which he claimed police unjustifiably refused him information he says could have helped him defend the charge in court.

Stephen Rendell took his complaint to the Human Rights Review Tribunal after an incident in June 2018 led to his being convicted of dangerous driving.

However, Rendell had made his own driving complaint on the evening of the incident which he said read like “chalk and cheese” compared with the witness statement of an off-duty police officer.

That witness statement claimed Rendell was driving his Porsche erratically along Piha Rd on a wet and windy evening and that he had dangerously overtaken several vehicles.

Conversely, Rendell claimed the police officer, who was in his personal vehicle and not in uniform, was the one who had been driving poorly.

Rendell lodged the complaint about the off-duty officer’s driving on the police’s Community Road Watch online portal.

Several days later, he received a letter calling him to court to answer a charge of dangerous driving.

When Rendell asked police for the complaint he had lodged, they told him it did not exist.

As a result, Rendell was unable to procure the information he wished to use to refute the charge.

He went on to plead guilty in the Waitākere District Court to three charges of dangerous driving, for which he was sentenced in February 2022.

After his conviction and sentencing, Rendell became concerned he had been unfairly treated by police and hired a private investigator to take a closer look.

That investigator made several requests for information from the police on his behalf including an audit log of everyone who had accessed his file on the police database, called the National Intelligence Application (NIA).

The investigator also asked for all correspondence including documents, emails and text messages from the officer who had made the witness statement about Rendell, and any file cover sheets related to complaints made about Rendell.

Under the Privacy Act, anyone can request information that any agency or organisation holds about them, but the act does have some limitations.

Police refused Rendell’s request so he appealed the case to the Privacy Commissioner, who then referred it to the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT).

Last week, the HRRT found police were justified in withholding the NIA audit logs and that they had searched for the correspondence Rendell had requested but came up empty.

However, the tribunal also found police had breached their obligations under the Privacy Act when they gave Rendell the file’s cover sheet, which specifies what’s inside, on the first day of the HRRT hearing.

“This means the police decision to provide this document was made over three years after the decision should have been made,” the tribunal’s decision reads.

“The tribunal finds that while the late decision and provision of this information was due to an administrative error, it does not constitute a proper basis under the act upon which the deemed refusal can be justified.”

Rendell told NZME the partial win was a “hollow sort of victory” for him.

“I know what happened and there’s something going on that needs to be uncovered,” he claimed.

“It’s been extremely costly to me in terms of five years of my life, but also financially costly to me as well.

“It has been hell.”

Rendell believed police defending the release of his information was a waste of taxpayer money.

“I’ve spent an enormous amount of money trying to access my own information that’s been hidden by the police who are now hiding behind the Privacy Act,” he said.

Because Rendell’s claim was only partially successful, it left him with the opportunity to appeal the decision. Due to this police said they were unable to comment.

Part of last year’s HRRT hearing was held behind closed doors as police argued that disclosure about who had accessed various files within their system could indicate they have cause to be interested in a certain individual – and tip them off if they’re being investigated.

The tribunal found that the disclosure of the information created a real possibility of affecting the ability of police to investigate and detect offending.

This meant police were justified in withholding this aspect of Rendell’s request.

Rendell sought an anonymised summary of the NIA logs and while the tribunal refused to order this, police indicated they might consider that request in good faith.

NZME understands this has not been done yet.

In a statement published on the Privacy Commissioner’s website this week, the commissioner also outlined the reasons for making the same findings and noted that releasing such logs should be done on a case-by-case basis.

It referenced a case from 2010 where a woman successfully appealed to have the names of those who had accessed her NIA file released to her.

“We are pleased that the tribunal has continued to acknowledge that a case-by-case assessment of the merits of withholding information is required,” the commissioner said.

Jeremy Wilkinson is an Open Justice reporter based in Manawatū covering courts and justice issues with an interest in tribunals. He has been a journalist for nearly a decade and has worked for NZME since 2022.

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