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Parliamentary Commissioner Act
(Northern Ireland) 1969



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Parliamentary Commissioner Act
(Northern Ireland) 1969

1969. Chapter 10

An Act to make provision for the appointment and functions of a Parliamentary Commissioner for the investigation of administrative action taken on behalf of the Crown in right of Her Majesty's Government in Northern Ireland, and for purposes connected therewith.
[24th June 1969]

BE it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, and the Senate and the House of Commons of Northern Ireland in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:-

The Northern Ireland Parliamentary Commissioner
for Administration
1.(1) For the purpose of conducting investigations in accordance with the following provisions of this Act there shall be appointed a Commissioner, to be known as the Northern Ireland Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. Appointment and tenure of office.
(2) The Governor may from time to time appoint a person to be the Commissioner, and any person so appointed shall, subject to subsection (3), hold office during good behaviour.
(3) A person appointed to be the Commissioner-
(a) may, at his own request, be relieved of office by the Governor;
(b) may be removed from office by the Governor in consequence of Addresses from both Houses of Parliament; and
(c) shall in any case vacate office on completing the year of service in which he attains the age of sixty-five years.
(4) In the Part substituted by section 10 of, and Schedule 3 to, the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1957 for Part III of Schedule 1 to that Act (which substituted Part specifies certain offices the holders of which are disqualified for membership of the Senate and of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland) the following entry shall be inserted at the appropriate point in alphabetical order:
The Northern Ireland Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration.
2.(1) There shall be paid to the holder of the office of Commissioner a salary at the rate (subject to subsection (2)) of £5,775 a year. Salary and pension.
(2) Parliament may by a resolution passed by each House increase as from the date on which the resolution is passed or such other date (whether before or after the date on which the resolution is passed) the salary payable to the Commissioner under subsection (1).
(3) There shall be paid to any person who has held the office of Commissioner, or in respect of his service as Commissioner, such pension and other benefits as the Governor may by Order in Council determine.
(4) The Governor shall not be recommended to make any Order in Council under this section until a draft thereof has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(5) The salary payable to a holder of the office of Commissioner shall be abated by the amount of any pension payable to him in respect of any public office in the United Kingdom or elsewhere to which he had previously been appointed or elected; but any such abatement shall be disregarded in computing that salary for the purposes of any pension or other benefit payable under subsection (3).
(6) Any salary, pension or other benefit payable under this section shall be charged on and issued out of the Consolidated Fund.
3.(1) The Commissioner may appoint such officers as he may determine with the approval of the Ministry of Finance as to numbers and conditions of service. Administrative provisions.
(2) Any function of the Commissioner under this Act may be performed by any officer of the Commissioner authorised for the purpose by the Commissioner.
(3) The expenses of the Commissioner under this Act, to such amount as may be approved by the Ministry of Finance, shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament.
Investigation by the Commissioner
4.(1) Subject to the provisions of this section and to the notes contained in Schedule I, this Act applies to the government departments and other authorities listed in Schedule 1. Departments and
authorities
(2) The Governor may by Order in Council amend Schedule 1 by the alteration of any entry or note, the removal of any entry or note or the insertion of any additional entry or note; but nothing in this subsection authorises the inclusion in Schedule 1 of any body or authority not being a department or other body or authority whose functions are exercised on behalf of the Crown. subject to investigation.
(3) The Governor shall not be recommended to make any Order in Council under this section until a draft thereof has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(4) Any reference in this Act to a government department or other authority to which this Act applies includes a reference to the Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, members or officers of that department or authority.
5.(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, the Commissioner may investigate any action taken by or on behalf of a government department or other authority to which this Act applies, being action taken in the exercise of administrative functions of that department or authority, in any case where- Matters subject to investigation.
(a) a written complaint is duly made to a member of the House of Commons by a member of the public who claims to have sustained injustice in consequence of maladministration in connection with the action so taken; and
(b) the complaint is referred to the Commissioner, with the consent of the person who made it, by a member of the House of Commons with a request to conduct an investigation thereon.
(2) Except as hereinafter provided, the Commissioner shall not conduct an investigation under this Act in respect of any of the following matters, that is to say-
(a) any action in respect of which the person aggrieved has or had a right of appeal, reference or review to or before a tribunal constituted under any statutory provision or otherwise;
(b) any action in respect of which the person aggrieved has or had a remedy by way of proceedings in a court of law;
so, however, that the Commissioner may conduct an investigation, notwithstanding that the person aggrieved has or had such a right or remedy if satisfied that in the particular circumstances it is not reasonable to expect him to resort or have resorted to it.
(3) Without prejudice to subsection (2), the Commissioner shall not conduct an investigation under this Act in respect of any such actions or matters as may be described in Schedule 2.
(4) The Governor may by Order in Council amend Schedule 2 so as to exclude from the provisions of that Schedule any such action or matter as is described in that Order.
(5) The Governor shall not be recommended to make any Order in Council under this section until a draft thereof has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(6) In determining whether to initiate, continue or discontinue an investigation under this Act, the Commissioner shall, subject to the foregoing provisions, act in accordance with his own discretion; and any question whether a complaint is duly made under this Act shall be determined by the Commissioner.
6.(1) A complaint under this Act may be made by any individual, or by any body of persons whether incorporated or not, not being- Provisions relating to complaints.
(a) a local authority or other authority or body constituted for purposes of the public service or of local government or for the purposes of carrying on under national or public ownership any industry or undertaking or part of an industry or undertaking;
(b) any other authority or body whose members are appointed by Her Majesty or the Governor or any Minister of the Crown or Minister of Northern Ireland or department of the government of the United Kingdom or of the government of Northern Ireland, or whose revenues consist wholly or mainly of moneys provided by Parliament or by the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
(2) Where the person by whom a complaint might have been made under the foregoing provision of this Act has died or is for any reason unable to act for himself, the complaint may be made by his personal representative or by a member of his family or other individual suitable to represent him; but except as aforesaid a complaint shall not be entertained under this Act unless made by the person aggrieved himself.
(3) A complaint shall not be entertained under this Act unless it is made to a member of the House of Commons not later than twelve months from the day on which the person aggrieved first had notice of the matters alleged in the complaint; but the Commissioner may conduct an investigation pursuant to a complaint not made within that period if he considers that there are special circumstances which make it proper to do so.
(4) A complaint shall not be entertained under this Act unless the person aggrieved is resident in Northern Ireland (or, if he is dead, was so resident at the time of his death) or the complaint relates to action taken in relation to him while he was present in Northern Ireland or in relation to rights or obligations which accrued or arose in Northern Ireland.
7.(1) Where the Commissioner proposes to conduct an investigation pursuant to a complaint under this Act, he shall afford to- Procedure in respect of investigations.
(a) the principal officer of the department or authority concerned; and
(b) any other person who is alleged in the complaint to have taken or authorised the action complained of;
an opportunity to comment on any allegations contained in the complaint.
(2) Every such investigation shall be conducted in private, but except as aforesaid the procedure for conducting an investigation shall be such as the Commissioner considers appropriate in the circumstances of the case.
(3) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (2) the Commissioner may-
(a) obtain information from such persons and in such manner, and make such inquiries, as he thinks fit; and
(b) determine whether any person may be represented, by counsel or solicitor or otherwise, in the investigation.
(4) The Commissioner may, if he thinks fit, pay to the person by whom the complaint was made and to any other person who attends or furnishes information for the purposes of an investigation under this Act-
(a) sums in respect of expenses properly incurred by them;
(b) allowances by way of compensation for the loss of their time;
in accordance with such scales and subject to such conditions as the Ministry of Finance may determine.
(5) The conduct of an investigation under this Act shall not affect any action taken by the department or authority concerned, or any power or duty of that department or authority to take further action with respect to any matters subject to the investigation.
8.(1) For the purposes of an investigation under this Act the Commissioner may require any Minister, Parliamentary Secretary, officer or member of the department or authority concerned, or any other person who in his opinion is able to furnish information or produce documents relevant to the investigation, to furnish any such information or produce any such document. Evidence.
(2) For the purposes of any such investigation the Commissioner shall have the same powers as the High Court has in Northern Ireland, in respect of-
(a) the attendance and examination of witnesses, including the administration of oaths or affirmations and the examination of witnesses abroad; and
(b) the production of documents.
(3) Any obligation to maintain secrecy or other restriction upon the disclosure of information obtained by or furnished to persons in the service of the Crown, whether imposed by any statutory provision or by any rule of law, shall not apply to the disclosure of information for the purposes of an investigation under this Act; and the Crown shall not be entitled in relation to any such investigation to any such privilege in respect of the production of documents or the giving of evidence as is allowed by law in legal proceedings.
(4) A person shall not be required or authorised by virtue of this Act to furnish any information or answer any question relating to the proceedings of the Cabinet or of any committee of the Cabinet or to produce so much of any document as relates to such proceedings; and for the purpose of this subsection a certificate issued by the Secretary of the Cabinet with the approval of the Prime Minister and certifying that any information, question, document or part of a document so relates shall be conclusive.
(a) sums in respect of expenses properly incurred by them;
(b) allowances by way of compensation for the loss of their time;
in accordance with such scales and subject to such conditions as the Ministry of Finance may determine.
(5) The conduct of an investigation under this Act shall not affect any action taken by the department or authority concerned, or any power or duty of that department or authority to take further action with respect to any matters subject to the investigation.
8.(1) For the purposes of an investigation under this Act the Commissioner may require any Minister, Parliamentary Secretary, officer or member of the department or authority concerned, or any other person who in his opinion is able to furnish information or produce documents relevant to the investigation, to furnish any such information or produce any such document. Evidence.
(2) For the purposes of any such investigation the Commissioner shall have the same powers as the High Court has in Northern Ireland, in respect of-
(a) the attendance and examination of witnesses, including the administration of oaths or affirmations and the examination of witnesses abroad; and
(b) the production of documents.
(3) Any obligation to maintain secrecy or other restriction upon the disclosure of information obtained by or furnished to persons in the service of the Crown, whether imposed by any statutory provision or by any rule of law, shall not apply to the disclosure of information for the purposes of an investigation under this Act; and the Crown shall not be entitled in relation to any such investigation to any such privilege in respect of the production of documents or the giving of evidence as is allowed by law in legal proceedings.
(4) A person shall not be required or authorised by virtue of this Act to furnish any information or answer any question relating to the proceedings of the Cabinet or of any committee of the Cabinet or to produce so much of any document as relates to such proceedings; and for the purpose of this subsection a certificate issued by the Secretary of the Cabinet with the approval of the Prime Minister and certifying that any information, question, document or part of a document so relates shall be conclusive.
(5) Subject to subsection (3), a person shall not be compelled for the purposes of any investigation under this Act to give any evidence or produce any document which he could not be compelled to give or produce in proceedings before the High Court.
9.(1) If any person without lawful excuse obstructs the Commissioner or any officer of the Commissioner in the performance of his functions under this Act, or is guilty of any act or omission in relation to an investigation under this Act which, if that investigation were a proceeding in the High Court, would constitute contempt of court, the Commissioner may certify the offence to the High Court. Obstruction and contempt.
(2) Where an offence is certified under this section, the court may inquire into the matter and, after hearing-
(a) any witnesses who may be produced against or on behalf of the person charged with the offence; and
(b) any statement that may be offered in defence;
deal with the person charged with the offence in any manner in which the court could deal with him if he had committed the like offence in relation to the court.
(3) Nothing in this section shall be construed as applying to the taking of any such action as is mentioned in section 7 (5).
10.(1) In any case where the Commissioner conducts an investigation under this Act or decides not to conduct such an investigation, he shall send to the member of the House of Commons by whom the request for investigation was made (or if he is no longer a member of the House of Commons, to such member of the House of Commons as the Commissioner thinks appropriate) a report of the results of the investigation or, as the case may be, a statement of his reasons for not conducting an investigation. Reports by Commissioner.
(2) In any case where the Commissioner conducts an investigation under this Act, he shall also send a report of the results of the investigation to-
(a) the principal officer of the department or authority concerned;
(b) any other person who is alleged in the relevant complaint to have taken or authorised the action complained of.
(3) If, after conducting an investigation under this Act, it appears to the Commissioner that injustice has been caused to the person aggrieved in consequence of maladministration and that the injustice has not been, or will not be, remedied, he may, if he thinks fit, lay before each House of Parliament a special report upon the case.
(4) The Commissioner shall annually lay before each House of Parliament a general report on the performance of his functions under this Act and may from time to time lay before each House of Parliament such other reports with respect to those functions as he thinks fit.
(5) For the purposes of the law of defamation, any such publication as is hereinafter mentioned shall be absolutely privileged, that is to say-
(a) the publication of any matter by the Commissioner in making a report to either House of Parliament for the purposes of this Act;
(b) the publication of any matter by a member of the House of Commons in communicating with the Commissioner or his officers for those purposes or by the Commissioner or his officers in communicating with such a member for those purposes;
(c) the publication by such a member to the person by whom a complaint was made under this Act of a report or statement sent to the member in respect of the complaint in pursuance of subsection (1);
(d) the publication by the Commissioner to such a person as is mentioned in subsection (2) of a report sent to that person in pursuance of that subsection.
11.(1) It is hereby declared that the Commissioner and his officers hold office under Her Majesty within the meaning of the Official Secrets Act 1911. Provision for secrecy of information.
(2) Information obtained by the Commissioner or his officers in the course of, or for the purposes of, an investigation under this Act shall not be disclosed except for the purposes of-
(a) the investigation and of any report to be made thereon under this Act;
(b) any proceedings for an offence under the Official Secrets Acts 1911 to 1939 alleged to have been committed in respect of information obtained by the Commissioner or any of his officers by virtue of this Act;
(c) any proceedings for an offence of perjury alleged to have been committed in the course of an investigation under this Act;
(d) an inquiry with a view to the taking of proceedings of the kind mentioned in paragraphs (b) and (c); or
(e) any proceedings under section 9;
and the Commissioner and his officers shall not be called upon to give evidence in any proceedings (other than such proceedings as aforesaid) of matters coming to his or their knowledge in the course of an investigation under this Act.
(3) A Minister may give notice in writing to the Commissioner, with respect to any document or information specified in the notice, or any class of documents or information so specified, that in the opinion of the Minister the disclosure of that document or information, or of documents or information of that class would be prejudicial to the safety of Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom or otherwise contrary to the public interest; and where such a notice is given nothing in this Act shall be construed as authorising or requiring the Commissioner or any officer of the Commissioner to communicate to any person or for any purpose any document or information specified in the notice, or any document or information of a class so specified.
Supplemental
12.(l) In this Act- Interpretation.
"action" includes failure to act and other expressions connoting action shall be construed accordingly;
"the Cabinet" means the Executive Committee for Northern Ireland;
"the Commissioner" means the Northern Ireland Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration;
"the Crown", except in section 6 (1) (b), means the Crown in right of Her Majesty's Government in Northern Ireland;
"officer" includes employee;
''person aggrieved'' means the person who claims or is alleged to have sustained such injustice as is mentioned in section
"tribunal" includes the person constituting a tribunal consisting of one person.
(2) It is hereby declared that nothing in this Act authorises or requires the Commissioner to question the merits of a decision taken without maladministration by a government department or other authority in the exercise of a discretion vested in that department or authority.
13.(1) This Act may be cited as the Parliamentary Commissioner Act (Northern Ireland) 1969. Short title and commencement.
(2) Subsection (1) and this subsection shall come into operation on the passing of this Act and the other provisions of this Act shall come into operation on such day or days as the Governor may by Order in Council appoint.
(3) A complaint under this Act may be made in respect of matters which arose before the commencement of this Act; and in relation to such a complaint-
(a) for the purposes of section 6 (3) any time elapsing between the date of the passing and the date of the commencement of this Act (but not any time before the first of those dates) shall be disregarded; and
(b) section 6 (3) shall have effect as if for the reference to twelve months there were substituted a reference to twenty-four months.



SCHEDULES
SCHEDULE I
Section 4.
DEPARTMENTS AND AUTHORITIES SUBJECT TO INVESTIGATION
Ministry of Agriculture
Civil Service Commission
Ministry of Commerce
Ministry of Development
Ministry of Education
Ministry of Finance
Government Information Service
Ministry of Health and Social Services
Ministry of Home Affairs
NOTES:
1. The reference to the Ministry of Commerce includes the Registry of Friendly Societies and the office of the Industrial Assurance Commissioner.
2. The reference to the Ministry of Finance includes the General Register Office, the Land Registry, the Public Record Office, the Registry of Deeds and the office of the Commissioner of Valuation.
3. The reference to the Ministry of Home Affairs does not include-
(a) the office of the Attorney General;
(b) the office of the Chief Crown Solicitor in relation to the administration of the criminal law, or to functions under section 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act (Northern Ireland) 1939;
(c) the Royal Ulster Constabulary or the Ulster Special Constabulary.
4. In relation to any function exercisable by a department or authority for the time being listed in this Schedule which was previously exercisable on behalf of the Crown by a department or authority not so listed, the reference to the department or authority so listed includes a reference to the other department or authority.



SCHEDULE 2
Section 5.
MATTERS NOT SUBJECT TO INVESTIGATION
1. Action taken in matters certified by a Minister to affect relations or dealings between the Government of Northern Ireland and any other Government.
2. Action taken by or with the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs for the purposes of investigating crime or of protecting the security of Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom.
3. The commencement or conduct of any civil or criminal proceedings before any court of law in the United Kingdom, or of proceedings before any international court or tribunal.
4. Any exercise of the prerogative of mercy or of any power of the Minister of Home Affairs to make a reference in respect of any person to the Court of Criminal Appeal.
5. Action taken on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Social Services by the Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority, a hospital management committee or a special care management committee.
6. Action taken in matters relating to contractual or other commercial transactions, whether within Northern Ireland or elsewhere, being transactions of a government department or authority to which this Act applies or of any such authority as is mentioned in section 6 (1) (a) or (b), and not being transactions for or relating to-
(a) the acquisition of land compulsorily or in circumstances in which it could be acquired compulsorily;
(b) the disposal as surplus of land acquired compulsorily or in such circumstances as aforesaid.
7. Action taken in respect of appointments or removals, pay, discipline, superannuation or other personnel matters, in relation to-
(a) service in any office or employment under the Crown or under any authority listed in Schedule 1;
(b) service in any office or employment, or under any contract for services, in respect of which power to take action, or to determine or approve the action to be taken, in such matters is vested in the Governor, any Minister or Ministry, or any such authority as aforesaid.


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