PUBLIC INFORMATION — A European Community court has declared that a government's denial of access to politically significant information is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, reports Access Info.
European Court of Human Rights in which it recognises that when public
bodies already hold information that is needed for public debate, the
refusal to provide it to those who are seeking it is a violation of the
right to freedom of expression and information.
In this case the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
asked Hungarys Constitutional Court to disclose a parliamentarian's
complaint questioning the legality of a new drugs policy law. The
Constitutional Court refused to release the information. The European
Court of Human Rights found this refusal to be a violation the European
Convention on Human Rights.
The Courts decision refers to the censorial
power of an information monopoly when public bodies refuse to release
information needed by the media or civil society organisations to
perform their watchdog function.
Ádám Földes, lawyer with Access Info, who worked
previously with the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and was deeply
involved in the preparation of this case, said this
extension of freedom of expression to the right to request and receive
information from public bodies is a huge step towards full recognition
of the right of access to information.
Todays ruling from the European Court of Human Rights has a number of other important features:
Court extends the traditional protection of the media as public
watchdogs to civil society groups who it says have a social watchdog
The Court states
that use of protection of privacy to refuse to make public information
relating to the opinions of public figures on matters of public
interest would be fatal for freedom of expression;
State now has an obligation not to impede the flow of information
needed for public debate on matters of public importance. In other
words, that the public has a right to ask and public bodies have an
obligation to answer: to do otherwise would be a violation of freedom
decision refers to a parliamentarian and a constitutional court, which
implies that the scope of the right of access to information does only
apply to the executive branch of power.