Madrid, 22 November 2019 Access Info Europe has lodged an appeal to Malta’s Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal after an access to documents request was refused due to the fact that the requester is not a resident in Malta.

In the appeal, Access Info argues that residency requirements are a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information, and calls for Malta’s Freedom of Information Act to be brought into line with international standards.

The case began when the Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security in Malta refused to register a request sent by a member of the Access Info team who, despite being an EU citizen, was not considered an “eligible person” as the law requires requesters to have five years of residency, as well as being a citizen of Malta or another EU Member State.

In October 2019, Access Info appealed to the Information and Data Protection Commissioner. To our surprise, the Commissioner confirmed that the legislator’s intention was unequivocally to restrict such right to persons residing in Malta for a period of at least 5 years.

Access Info is arguing that, given that the right of access to information is an inherent part of the fundamental right to freedom of expression, it is a right which can be exercised without frontiers, regardless of nationality or residence.

As such, Malta’s current approach violates the fundamental right of freedom of expression laid down in Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights and, indeed, Article 41 of the Constitution of Malta which states:

no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference”.

Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info stated:

“The residency requirement in Malta’s Freedom of Information Act goes against the principles of international human rights and EU law, is discriminatory, and is a direct breach of Malta’s obligation to protect freedom of expression and information”.