19 September 2022 – As part of Access Info’s work to promote access to information as a right for all, a right which can be exercised transnationally, we are happy to share two important updates on our campaigns with a key court hearing in Malta and the good news of opening up requests to all in Spain.
Access Info’s Litigation in Malta
In Malta on 14 September 2022, the Court of Appeal heard a challenge brought by the Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security against a March 2022 decision of the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal (hereafter the Tribunal) that all EU citizens should have equal right to submit an access to information request in Malta.
This case stems back to an August 2019 request submitted by an Italian citizen working for Access Info, who sought information from Malta’s Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security related to the return of migrants. The Ministry originally refused to register the request as she was not an “eligible person” for not meeting the dual conditions of being a citizen of and resident in Malta for at least 5 years. This decision was referred to the Office of the Information and Data Protection Commissioner (hereafter the “IDPC”), which confirmed the Ministry’s refusal.
Access Info appealed this decision and, with the invaluable and expert pro bono support from local law firm Fenech Farrugia Fiott Legal, successfully overturned the decision of the IDPC before the Tribunal. The Ministry is appealing the Tribunal’s decision before the Maltese Court of Appeal. The final decision of the Court of Appeal will be delivered on 25 January 2023, almost three and a half years after having made the initial request.
More info on the case here.
“Access Info is calling on the Government of Malta to comply with the ruling of the Information Tribunal and to recognise that the right to submit access to information requests in Malta should not be conditional on residency or citizenship, in line with international standards,” stated Rachel Hanna, Legal Research and Campaigner at Access Info.
Spain: Any passport will do!
The good news of the week is that anyone from anywhere in the world can use the Spanish Transparency Portal to request documents, all you need is to put in the number of an official identity document such as an ID card or passport, from any country.
This development follows years of advocacy by Access Info, to make real the promise of Spain’s 2013 Transparency Law which states that this right is universal and that “all people have the right to access public information.”
Until recently, requesters who wanted to use the Portal needed a Spanish electronic certificate or to secure a user password which in turn required a Spanish ID number and a telephone number.
This improvement, which opens up to the world the chance to submit requests in Spain, was implemented in August 2022 as part of the commitments of the IV Open Government Action Plan.
“Requesting still requires some type of identification, so it’s not a perfect system, but it is a major step in the right direction,” stated Patricia González, Legal Research and Campaigner at Access Info Europe, noting that Spain has yet to recognise access to information as a fundamental right.
The portal is currently available in Spanish and the other co-official languages as well as English, but the English language part is intertwined with Spanish pages, involves many clicks, and so is hard to find.
For the background story on this problem read here.