The principal purpose of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission is to determine the circumstances and causes of accidents and incidents with a view to avoiding similar occurrences in the future, rather than to ascribe blame to any person.
The Commission aims to ensure that its procedures are fair and open and comply with the principles of natural justice. It must also produce its reports and recommendations in a timely and efficient manner, having regard to its contractual obligations to the Minister of Transport and the public interest to publish an accurate, comprehensive report promptly after a transport accident or incident. The following consultative procedures contribute to these objectives.
Consultation on reports
Before publishing a final report on an accident or incident, the Commission produces a preliminary report. If the preliminary report states or infers that a person.s conduct has contributed to the cause of the accident or incident such a person becomes an interested party, and the Commission gives that person an opportunity to comment on or refute that statement. Because the preliminary report may contain inaccuracies, it is sent to interested parties in confidence to enable those parties to comment on it to the Commission. The Commission may also invite comment from other parties it considers may materially contribute to the accuracy of the report. No party is permitted to make public comment on or add to public speculation about the contents of the preliminary report, since this would breach natural justice and could impede the free flow of information to and thus the effectiveness of the Commission in future. It would also breach section 14B of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) Act 1990.
Under section 14B of the TAIC Act, any person to whom the Commission has provided information in confidence for the purpose of the Commission.s investigation (for example for comment on the preliminary report) must obtain the written consent of the Commission before they can disclose that information to any other party. The Commission gives its consent for interested parties to disclose the preliminary report or the information within the report to a support person or a legal advisor, as long as the interested party makes that person aware that they must not disclose the report or the information within it to any other person or organisation. Every person who discloses information so provided in confidence without the Commission.s written consent commits an offence under section 14L of the TAIC Act, and is liable to a fine up to $10,000. An organisation is liable to a fine of up to $25,000.
The TAIC Act does not prevent an interested party disclosing their own information to anyone else, including the police and other government or civilian investigators, and the news media. Nor does the TAIC Act prevent an interested party disclosing information gained from sources other than the Commission. When doing so, however, the interested party must be careful not to include the information supplied in confidence by the Commission, nor information which the interested party has derived from anything supplied in confidence by the Commission. Including those types of information would be a breach of confidence and may amount to an offence under section 14L.
The TAIC Act law on disclosing information promotes and protects the free flow of information to the Commission, so that it has the best opportunity to find out the truth of what happened and tell the state and the public how to prevent people being killed by similar accidents. If you are an interested party and are not sure which information you can disclose to others, please discuss it first with the Commission.s Investigator-in-Charge, or contact your lawyer for advice.
The Commission evaluates the written comments from interested parties if received by the Commission within 21 days, and may modify the preliminary report on the basis of these submissions. No further opportunity to comment on the report is provided unless the Commission makes changes which imply a greater contribution by an interested party to the reported cause of the accident or incident.
The modified report is submitted to the Commission for final consideration and approval as its final report prior to publication. The Commission forwards a copy of the final report in confidence to interested parties a few days before public release. The same requirements for confidentiality that applied to the preliminary report also apply to the advance copy of the final report until it is released to the public by the Commission. Once the final report is made public interested parties are free to make public comment on the final report and its contents. However they may not make public comment on the other information provided to them in confidence by the Commission, including the contents of the preliminary report and preliminary safety recommendations if different from the final report. Neither the preliminary report nor the final report are admissible as evidence in a civil or criminal court.
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Consultation on Safety Recommendations
The ultimate goal of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission is to improve transport safety. To this end the Commission prepares and publishes safety recommendations when it identifies substantive opportunities for improvement. Safety recommendations may be made at any time during an investigation and are made in general or specific terms whether they be directly derived from causal factors or have been prompted by other factors in the investigation. Each safety recommendation is made to the recipient (any organisation, entity, or person) in the best position to implement it. The Commission has no power to enforce its safety recommendations.
Following initial discussion between the Investigator-in-Charge and the recipient, the Commission forwards a preliminary safety recommendation to the recipient and invites comment within 10 or 21 days depending on the urgency of the recommendation. Like a preliminary report, the preliminary safety recommendation and accompanying material is supplied to the recipient in confidence and must not be disclosed as this could result in inappropriate speculation or a breach of natural justice and would amount to an offence. The Commission considers the recipient.s comments before formulating the final safety recommendation which the Commission forwards again in confidence to the recipient. The Commission asks the recipient to reply within 10 or 21 days stating whether or not the recipient will implement the safety recommendation.
If the recommendation is very urgent the Commission issues a final safety recommendation without first issuing a preliminary safety recommendation.
Implementing safety recommendations
To help maintain public confidence in the safety recommendation process, the Commission also encourages recipients to advise it when the recipient has implemented a safety recommendation, or has determined that it cannot or should not implement the recommendation. The Commission considers the information or evidence and publishes each final safety recommendation's status: not yet implemented, implemented, or that it should not be implemented. This information helps the Commission make better safety recommendations in future, and demonstrates that the recipient is helping prevent similar accidents in future.
The Commission reports the status of each safety recommendation as one of the following:
Closed - acceptable
The recipient or other relevant party has shown that it has completed action satisfying the objective of the safety recommendation.
Closed - cancelled
The safety recommendation has been superseded, or become no longer applicable for a variety of reasons. For example the recipient or other relevant party has shown that the safety recommendation probably is not practicable or does not meet the test of safety at reasonable cost.
The Commission has received insufficient evidence to assign a status of Closed - acceptable, or Closed - cancelled to the recommendation.
The Commission publishes the final safety recommendation, its status and the pertinent portion of the recipient.s reply in the final occurrence report if practicable. All final safety recommendations, pertinent portions of recipients. replies, and each safety recommendation.s current status are also published on the internet at the Commission.s web site www.taic.org.nz.
The Commission may hold a public hearing if it is likely to provide any significant advantages for determining the causes and circumstances of an accident or incident over the Commission.s normal procedure of gathering information in camera. The Commission will conduct the hearing according to such rules of procedure appropriate to its purpose under the TAIC Act 1990 and the powers conferred on it by the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1908.
16 August 2004
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