Madrid / Strasbourg, 14 February 2022 – There is strong comparative evidence from across Europe that national access to information laws apply to the meetings calendars of senior public officials according to a submission made by Access Info to the European Court of Human Rights.
This evidence has been presented in the form of an Amicus Curiae (“friend of the court”) Brief submitted in relation to the case of Citizens Network Watchdog Poland vs. Poland currently under consideration by Europe’s top human rights court.
This case arose when the organisation Watchdog Poland requested the calendars of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal presidents for the period January to July 2017, after media reports that they had met a politician in charge of the special services, resulting in changes to the judges trying surveillance and terrorism-prevention cases.
In spite of the broad definition of “information” in Article 1 of Poland’s 2001 Access to Public Information Act as “any information about public matters”, the request was rejected on the grounds that it was for an “internal office document” and therefore the access to information law did not apply. After failing to prevail in the Polish Courts, Watchdog Poland lodged the case with the European Court of Human Rights.
In comparative research conducted with input from European right to information organisations [full list below], Access Info found that the meetings calendar of a court official would clearly fall under the definition of an administrative document and be subject to the access to information laws of at least 34 of the 47 countries over which the European Court of Human Rights has jurisdiction.
The definition of information in the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents (Tromsø Convention) is very clear: it applies to “all information recorded in any form, drawn up or received and held by public authorities.”
Access Info also presented multiple examples of good practice, including the proactive publication of such information by the European Commission, France, Lithuania, and Spain. In the case of Spain, there is a specific application of the proactive publication requirements that means that the meetings agendas of President and the Vice President of the Supreme Court are published proactively online.
The Amicus Curiae Brief also gives examples of recent jurisprudence from Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK which confirmed that calendars of meetings of high public figures fall under the definition of “information/documents” within the respective access to information laws of those countries.
Rachel Hanna, Legal Researcher at Access Info Europe stated:
“This Brief clearly demonstrates that there is no room for the concept of ‘internal document’ when it comes to transparency of the activities of public officials holding meetings related to their core work. This is information essential for accountability of public activity.”
The Brief also addresses the question of whether the identity of the requester is relevant. Access Info notes that most national access to information laws and the Tromsø Convention establish that the motivation of a requester must not be required and should not influence a public body’s decision on whether or not to release information. Only the exceptions are relevant.
In this case, where no exceptions were invoked, it should not be necessary to turn to the question of whether the information was being sought as part of watchdog activities, such as that of a civil society organisation or investigative journalist.
Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe explained:
“The Strasbourg Human Rights Court has tended to require that the requester is seeking information in order to exercise their right to freedom of expression. That may be relevant when considering exceptions and a fine balance between the harm and public interest tests, but in this case there is no need for that.
“Here we have an excellent opportunity for the Court to affirm that the right of access to information is a right of all, given the importance of information for – in the words of the Tromsø Convention – ensuring the accountability and legitimacy of public institutions.”
Note: Comparative information provided to the RTI Europe community came from.
Doctrine (France), LobbyControl (Germany), Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (Georgia), K-Monitor (Hungary), Transparency International Lithuania, Transparency International Macedonia, Open State Foundation (Netherlands), Funky Citizens (Romania), Transparency Serbia, Danes Je Nov Dan (Slovenia), Oeffentlichkeitsgesetz (Switzerland), Article 19 (UK), Freedom of Information Campaign (UK),
For more information, please contact:
Helen Darbishire | Executive Director
Access Info mobile/WhatsApp: +34 637 22 66 09