Images-25 PUBLIC INFORMATION -- A European Community court has declared that a government's denial of access to politically significant information is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, reports Access Info.

Access Info Europe welcomes today’s ruling by the
European Court of Human Rights in which it recognises that when public
bodies already hold information that is needed for public debate, the
refusal to provide it to those who are seeking it is a violation of the
right to freedom of expression and information.

In this case the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
asked Hungary’s Constitutional Court to disclose a parliamentarian's
complaint questioning the legality of a new drugs policy law. The
Constitutional Court refused to release the information. The European
Court of Human Rights found this refusal to be a violation the European
Convention on Human Rights.

 The Court’s decision refers to the “censorial
power of an information monopoly” when public bodies refuse to release
information needed by the media or civil society organisations to
perform their “watchdog” function.

 Ádám Földes, lawyer with Access Info, who worked
previously with the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and was deeply
involved in the preparation of this case, said “this
extension of freedom of expression to the right to request and receive
information from public bodies is a huge step towards full recognition
of the right of access to information

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Today’s ruling from the European Court of Human Rights has a number of other important features:

  • The
    Court extends the traditional protection of the media as “public
    watchdogs” to civil society groups who it says have a “social watchdog”
    function;

  • The Court states
    that use of protection of privacy to refuse to make public information
    relating to the opinions of public figures on matters of public
    interest would be “fatal for freedom of expression”;

  • The
    State now has an obligation not to impede the flow of information
    needed for public debate on matters of public importance. In other
    words, that the public has a right to ask and public bodies have an
    obligation to answer: to do otherwise would be a violation of freedom
    of expression;

  • The
    decision refers to a parliamentarian and a constitutional court, which
    implies that the scope of the right of access to information does only
    apply to the executive branch of power.