Madrid, 21 July 2017 – Access Info Europe welcomed this week’s ruling from the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union, that the Commission cannot automatically refuse access to whole categories of documents in its possession.
The Court confirmed that the EU institutions should always apply the EU’s access to documents rules to any documents they hold, regardless of the original authors.
“Sometimes it’s important to confirm basic principles of this fundamental right, such as that if the Commission holds a document, it has to process a request, and there can never be automatic denials, no matter what type of document it is or who created it!” said Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe.
The case was brought by the German civil liberties activist and Pirate Party member Patrick Breyer, who was trying to obtain from the European Commission documents related to ongoing court cases about the Data Retention directive, including submissions made to the Court of Justice by the Austrian government.
The fact that documents can be requested, does not mean of course that they will be released, as there is an exception to access if it would harm court proceedings, unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.
In this case the Court clarified that even if documents relate to ongoing court cases, and so there is a general presumption of harm, “such a presumption does not exclude the right of the person concerned to demonstrate that a document whose disclosure has been requested is not covered by that presumption.”
Procedural Documents cannot be obtained from the Court
The interesting twist in this case is that the documents can be requested from the Commission but not the Court, as the non-administrative functions of the Court are not covered by the EU’s right of access to documents.
On the positive side, it does give citizens the opportunity access to court proceedings and be able to hold public institutions to account following the closure of a case.
On the negative side, the case has not opened up access to the Court itself, which is still the most closed EU institutions, with the current EU transparency rules applying only to its administrative tasks.
“The Court itself must come fully under the EU transparency rules, and more transparent about the way it operates,” added Darbishire.
In recent years there has been growing pressure for greater transparency around the Court. Access Info and The Good Lobby have continued to challenge the lack of transparency around the selection process of EU judges.
You can access to press release of the case here.
You can access the text of the case itself here.
For more information, please contact:
Luisa Izuzquiza, Communications Officer | Access Info Europe
Andreas Pavlou, RTI Campaigner and Researcher | Access Info Europe
Send an e-mail or call +34 913 656 558
Photo: katarina_dzurekova via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)