Madrid, 26 January 2023 – Malta’s Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of Access Info that the Maltese government was discriminatory and violated the rights of EU citizens when it refused to register an information request by a non-Maltese citizen.
This major win for the right of access to information stems back to an August 2019 request by an Italian citizen working with Access Info, who asked for data on the return of migrants. The Maltese Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security refused to register the request stating that an “eligible person” under Malta’s 2008 Freedom of Information Act had to either be a Maltese citizen or a citizen of a Member State of the European Union who has been resident in Malta for at least 5 years.
With the pro bono representation of prominent Maltese law firm Fenech Farrugia Fiott Legal, Access Info appealed this decision, arguing that the residency and citizenship requirements contravene international standards and European law, amount to discrimination, and violate Malta’s constitutional obligation to protect the right to freedom of expression and information.
Malta’s Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal in March 2022 found in Access Info’s favour but the Ministry appealed.
The Court of Appeal has now confirmed that it was not the intention of the legislator to restrict the right to submit a request on the grounds of residency and therefore create a law that was out of line with other EU Member State laws and therefore in breach of Malta’s obligations under EU law.
The Court noted that the Ministry’s strict interpretation of the law would make it practically impossible for anyone not living in Malta to submit a request. This interpretation is discriminatory and directly impacts not only on the right to freedom of information, but also on the freedom of movement of EU citizens.
Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info, said:
“This win establishes an important principle of the right of all to request information without discrimination, and will support transnational investigations by journalists and civil society across Europe.”
Dr Paul Felice of Fenech Farrugia Fiott Legal stated:
“We are very pleased that Malta’s Court of Appeal has finally put to rest a matter of public interest significance which now confirms, without any shadow of doubt, that EU citizens have a right to access and receive information from government agencies under the Freedom of Information Act, irrespective of their residence. This judgment should enhance the standards of transparency which the Act was designed to safeguard and promote.”
This Court decision comes at a time when standards of freedom of expression and information in Malta have come under scrutiny, both by international bodies and by local journalists and civil society.
Access Info therefore welcomes this judgment and sees it as a step in the right direction for improving transparency in Malta.
Access Info will be resubmitting the original request.
Read here the official Court decision (in Maltese).
Read here the unofficial English translation.