Ireland, Germany, Spain lagging behind on police transparency
Ireland is the only country in Europe to exclude the police from the scope of its freedom of information law, in Germany the right to know does not apply to all police forces, and Spain is the largest EU country without an access to information law and so no public right to obtain information from the police.
These findings are contained in our new report, The Right to Know: Europe and the Police presented at a conference on police transparency held at the Centre for Freedom of Information, Dundee (Scotland) on 26 November 2009. The Report was updated on 4th December 2009.
The research stemmed from concerns raised by the Scottish Campaign against Irresponsible Driving (SCID) that families of those killed by vehicle drivers can’t routinely access information held by the police, in particular police reports or professional witness statements.
David Goldberg presents The Right to Know: Europe and the Police
Photo: Centre for Freedom of Information
Scottish freedom of information academic lawyer David Goldberg said, “Working with SCID has been very sobering; provision of information is vital for relatives and it would be highly desirable if such requests were granted as part of a right to receive information in this situation.”
Another concern identified by the report is the exclusion of all information relating to criminal or judicial investigations by the police. In countries such as Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway and Switzerland this information falls outside the scope of the access to information law and cannot be accessed even if a strong public interest in the information is demonstrated.
Access Info’s review of the police transparency in the 47 member states of the Council of Europe found that seven (7) do not recognise the public’s right to know: Andorra, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino and Spain. In some federal states such as Germany, the right to know does not apply to all police forces as not all the provinces (Lander) have freedom of information laws.
Problems in accessing police information in practice are identified in Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Poland and Montenegro. Access is often denied through over-broad application of exceptions or the classification of documents. In Montenegro, for example, anti-corruption campaigners have had to go to court to get even basic information about police implementation of the national plan against corruption and organised crime. In Albania, human rights groups investigating the CIA extraordinary rendition programme went to court and obtained information about the passage through Albania of torture victim Khaled el Masri.
“The police serve the public and should be accountable to it,” said Access Info’s director Helen Darbishire. “Limited secrecy is obviously necessary to protect investigations, but blanket exceptions for police information, or the more radical exemption of the entire police force as is the case in Ireland, undermine democratic oversight of law enforcement.”