30 March 2022 – Access Info has successfully defended the right of access to information in Malta, winning a court ruling from Malta’s Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal that all EU citizens have a right to submit information requests.
The case arose from an August 2019 request for data on migration to Malta submitted by an Italian citizen working at Access Info’s Madrid office.
The request was refused by Malta’s Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security on the grounds that she was not a Maltese resident.
Malta’s 2008 Freedom of Information Act says that requesters must be both citizens of Malta or another EU Member State and have been resident in Malta for five or more years.
Access Info challenged this as contravening Malta’s Constitution and international standards, amounting to a violation of the right to freedom of expression, and constituting discrimination.
In October 2019, the Information and Data Protection Commissioner rejected Access Info’s appeal and upheld the refusal by the Ministry, stating that the legislator’s intention was unequivocally to restrict the right to make information requests to persons with at least five years’ residence in Malta.
With pro bono legal support, we appealed and, on 24 March 2022, the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal decided in favour of Access Info, finding that while the wording of the legislation leaves scope for interpretation, “the intention of the legislator was never to withhold such information from the EU citizens.”
Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info said:
“It is positive that the Tribunal reviewed the law of other EU Member States in reaching this decision. We hope that it will do the same when considering other FOI appeals in Malta.”
Rachel Hanna, Legal Researcher of Access Info added:
“The refusal to process requests on residency grounds is just one example of Malta’s weak transparency culture. This decision by the Tribunal is a positive example of change.”
The Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security now has to process the original 2019 request and consider it on its merits.
Access Info notes that journalists and civil society continue to have great difficulty obtaining information from government bodies in Malta, with FOI requests often being refused. Several international bodies have recently expressed their concerns on freedom of expression and information in Malta and have offered recommendations to bring law and practice into line with international standards, including:
» The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (here)
» The Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (here)
» The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe (here)
Read the court decision here.