Parliamentary Ombudsman Riitta-Leena Paunio is concerned that from time to time information that is required to be kept secret is publicly disclosed during ongoing criminal investigations. Deliberate leaks by the police are, in her assessment, especially serious. She has investigated on her own initiative how the police force is trying to prevent the dissemination of secret information and what it intends to do to make investigation of leaks more effective.
The Ombudsman stresses that lawful and open provision of information by the police in the course of criminal investigations is not a problem. The authorities are required to provide information as openly and actively as possible. If, for example, the view is taken that the social prominence of some or other person suspected of a crime is a compelling reason to release information concerning that criminal investigation - irrespective of the harm that disclosure of the information may cause the suspect ? what is involved is not a news leak. Instead, what is important is that something that the law requires to be kept secret is not publicly disclosed.
The police have admitted in their reports to the Ombudsman that leaks happen. However, the reports also state that what is often involved is incaution. The police regard actual deliberate leaks to, e.g., news media as rare.
The Ombudsman points out that information leaks can cause individuals major and irreversible harm. In addition, they may adversely affect investigation of crimes. That is why there must be a special concentration on investigating leaks, although investigating suspected crimes is challenging in view of such factors as journalists? protection of sources.
The Ombudsman stresses that the police should prevent leaks of this kind more effectively. For example, monitoring of access to registers should be stepped up. Another means is training. The Ombudsman additionally considers it important that, in conjunction with the comprehensive revision of the regulations on criminal investigations, coercive measures and the Police Act currently being drafted, there be a precise evaluation of the regulations through which it is possible to affect the preservation of the secrecy of information and investigation of leaks, at the same time, however, bearing in mind that provision of information by the police is sufficiently open and active. It must be possible, at least as a main rule, to report publicly on prominent members of society who are suspected of crimes even before their cases come before the courts - naturally respecting their right to presumption of innocence. The police may not exclude itself from publicity in the name of preserving secret information.
The Ombudsman has asked the Ministry of the Interior's Police Department to inform her, by 2.2.2009, of how the measures recommended by a working party appointed by the police command echelon to study oversight of the legality of use of register data have been implemented in practice and according to what timetable the intention is to adopt the measures that have not yet been implemented. In addition, the Police Department must report on any measures arising from suspicions expressed by certain provincial command echelons of the police that there are shortcomings relating to cooperation between police and journalists.
Additional information will be provided by Senior legal Adviser Juha Haapamäki, tel. +358 (0)9 432 3334.