Judgment confirms right to information from public authorities 21.11.16


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"In a landmark decision, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in the case of Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v. Hungary that there is a right to information from public authorities under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK’s Supreme Court had previously found that the Strasbourg court’s case law had not established this – but the new decision clearly does so."


...[The Court has ruled that] the right does not apply to all requests, only those where access ‘is instrumental for the individual’s exercise of his or her right to freedom of expression.’ This may apply where the requester’s purpose is to contribute to public debate on a matter of public interest. The requester would also have to fulfill a ‘public watchdog’ role, which the Grand Chamber said might apply not only to the press and NGOs but also to authors, academics, bloggers and ‘popular users of social media’.

...The decision potentially means that public bodies which are not subject to the FOI Act, ranging from GCHQ and the National Crime Agency to electoral registration officers, will be subject to a new disclosure obligation where information is sought for public benefit. They could refuse only on the grounds provided by Article 10 itself, for example to protect national security, law enforcement, confidential information or the rights of others. Any restriction on access must be necessary and proportionate – a form of public interest test. For bodies not subject to FOI, the new right would have to be enforced through the courts rather than by the Commissioner and Tribunal."

See: Landmark ruling on Article 10 (Campaign for Freedom of Information, link)

The judgment: CASE OF MAGYAR HELSINKI BIZOTTSÁG v. HUNGARY (application no. 18030/11, pdf) and the ECHR press release: The Hungarian authorities’ refusal to provide an NGO with information relating to the work of ex officio defence counsel was in breach of the right of access to information (pdf)

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