The recent administrative law decision of R (on the application of Pewter) v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis (2010) has confirmed that inadvertent disclosure of information contained in a prison assessment report, which was subject to public interest immunity, did not change the protected status it attracted.

A police officer disclosed information contained in a prison assessment report to a convicted rapist’s wife prior to his pending release, after she had sought assistance from the Public Protection Unit (PPU). She was concerned about the release of her husband as they were going through matrimonial proceedings, and the information she received from the officer relating to her husband was subsequently used in court. After unsuccessfully trying to acquire a copy of the report, the prisoner (P) made a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) that the police officer had acted in bad faith, as the impression given by the information he disclosed was misleading to the court and did not accurately reflect its contents. The detective inspector who dealt with the complaint concluded the information disclosed was fact and there was no breach of the police discipline code or the criminal code. P decided that he had no faith in the appellate process within the IPCC opting instead of an appeal to write to the police officer asking for a copy of the report, the officer refused and referred the query to the Information Commissioner but before receiving a substantive response, P applied for judicial review of the decision to refuse to provide him with the report. P submitted that although the report was subject to public interest immunity, that immunity had been stripped away following part disclosure of its content and should now be disclosed in the interests of justice.

It was held that P should have appealed the IPCC’s decision. The IPCC might have upheld the detective inspector’s decision but P would not know that until appealing.

Second, the detective inspector had reached the correct conclusion, but it was clear that the first police officer had wrongly disclosed certain information. However, his wrongful disclosure of that information and effective placement of it into the public domain could not affect the report’s public interest immunity status.