Madrid/Dublin, 12 November 2013 – The specialist freedom of information NGO Access Info Europe today expressed serious concern at attempts to maintain and even increase fees for FOI requests in Ireland and noted this is not permitted by European and international standards.
Access Info Europe noted that the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents expressly prohibits charges for requests. The Convention clearly states that a fee may only be charged to the applicant “for a copy of the official document, which should be reasonable and not exceed the actual costs of reproduction and delivery of the document” in other words, only photocopying and postage charges are permitted.
This provision was included in the Convention in spite of lobbying by the Irish government during the drafting process in 2007-2008 to permit fees, something which the other countries involved in the negotiations roundly rejected.
No other country in the European Union or the wider European region charges just for making a request for information.
“The standard is clear: there can be no charge made for exercising the fundamental right to ask for information from public bodies,” said Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe.
The social and economic benefits of government transparency are huge. They include increased efficiency which in turn leads to reduction of costs. Sometimes FOI requests can expose corruption or waste and help point to areas where savings can be made. CSOs engage in policy development, journalists write stories, entrepreneurs develop businesses reusing government data. This is in addition to the importance in a democracy of the public knowing what its government is doing, something which it is impossible to put a price tag on.
The European Court of Human Rights has recognised that access to information is a fundamental right linked to the right to freedom of expression. The UN Human Rights Committee has confirmed this.
“We don’t charge people for exercising other rights, for example, the right to vote” added Darbishire, noting that many democratic processes are expensive, which is precisely why the public pays taxes. “To charge a fee for FOI requests is unacceptable double taxation” she added.
Access Info Europe dismissed other arguments in favour of charging. If a public body is taking time to search for the requested information this could be the result of issues with internal information management. It would be highly inappropriate to ask requesters to pay more for longer searches when this might indicate inefficiencies inside some departments.
For more information, contact:
Helen Darbishire | Access Info Europe
firstname.lastname@example.org +34 667 685 319
Photo taken from David Dennis http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidden/239581180/