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Monday, July 10, 2006

Ombudsmen looking for ways to deal with "querulants"

Often those who pursue issues concerning transparency and accountability can be seen by the government agencies involved as “difficult” customers.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman in this article “Dealing with difficult complainants” in the Canberra Times last week says that there is growing concern amongst ombudsmen and similar offices of a perception that some complainants can be too demanding and unreasonable. His comments cover the field generally and are not limited to FOI matters.

Ombudsmen have even invented a new word – querulant – to describe this concern.

The Ombudsman says that a project led by the NSW Ombudsman’s Office is looking at practical strategies that might assist dealing with unreasonable complainants, including those who complain about the way their complaint was handled.

Professor McMillan acknowledges there is a difficulty in distinguishing legitimate complaints and unreasonable conduct.

Queensland is the only jurisdiction in Australia that includes in its FOI Act a provision regarding vexatious use of the Act – the Information Commissioner has powers to make a declaration. The NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal reserves the right to impose a cost order on an FOI applicant in proceedings before it where it finds vexatious conduct.

It will be interesting to see what the ombudsmen come up with.

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