Releasing information during investigations and prosecutions
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) will not comment on compliance and regulatory investigations into alleged unlawful conduct, unless it is considered to be in the public interest to do so. This is because of the potential detrimental effect that public commentary can have on the integrity of an investigation, the preservation of evidence and the reputation of the parties under investigation.
Several factors are taken into account when considering whether a statement about an investigation is in the public interest and outweighs the possible detrimental effect of public commentary on the integrity of the investigation. These include whether
- information about an investigation is already in the public domain
- the information will assist in protecting the environment or human health or assist in addressing the impacts of an incident being investigated on the environment or human health
- comment is necessary for investigation purposes, for example, in order to encourage witnesses to come forward.
In considering these factors, the EPA will take a balanced and objective approach and will limit public comment to confirming the existence of an investigation and, where necessary, seeking information relevant to its investigation.
In circumstances where the EPA confirms the existence of an investigation, we will usually limit further comment until the investigation is concluded. However, we may provide updates on the progress of the investigation if it is in the public interest to do so, particularly where the conduct being investigated continues to be of considerable public comment and debate. Where an investigation is made public, the EPA will usually make a statement at the conclusion of the investigation to report on the outcome.
Institution of legal proceedings by or against the EPA
The EPA may publicise the institution of legal proceedings for an alleged offence, or other proceedings, by issuing a media release. The media release will be appropriately worded and factually accurate to provide details of the matters alleged by the EPA. The EPA will not generally comment on legal proceedings instituted against the EPA.
A media release will generally only be issued after originating court documents have been filed and served on or otherwise drawn to the attention of the other parties or until the first court appearance of the matter.
The EPA may issue a media release when a penalty notice has been issued in relation to an alleged contravention of the legislation administered by the EPA. Penalty notice information will also be published on the EPA’s public register as required by the provisions of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.
The EPA will generally issue a media release when an enforceable undertaking has been agreed between the EPA and another party. Enforceable undertakings will also be published on the EPA’s public register as required by the provisions of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.