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A press release of access-info I reproduce here for your interest:

European Court of Human Rights takes a huge step

towards recognising Right of Access to Information

Madrid, 14 April 2009: 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.”

Access Info notes that the Court decision itself refers to recent judgments
in which it has moved “towards the recognition of a right of access to
information”.

“This ruling is a cautious confirmation that the right of access to
information is a human right” added Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of
Access Info Europe.

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.

Access Info notes that this ruling comes just five months after the Council
of Europe adopted the world’s first binding treaty on the right of access to
information, the Convention on Access to Official Documents (click
here to read
this new Convention). The importance of the ruling is that it reinforces the
right enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and in the new
Convention on Access to Official Documents by underlining the State’s
obligation to provide the public with information it holds.

Over 80 countries globally have laws that guarantee the right of access to
information. In Europe 40 of the 47 members of the Council of Europe have
such laws but implementation is often imperfect and monitoring studies show
that many requests by the public for government information go unanswered or
are denied. In addition, 24 Constitutions in Europe recognise the right of
access to information.

The European Court’s Decision can be found at:
http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/view.asp?item=10&portal=hbkm&action=html&h
ighlight=&sessionid=22108832&skin=hudoc-en

Case of Társaság a Szabadságjogokért v. Hungary (Application no. 37374/05)

and on the Access Info Europe website http://www.access-info.org

For more information, please contact:

· Helen Darbishire, Executive Director, Access Info Europe

+ 34 667 685 319
helen@access-info.org

· Ádám Földes, Lawyer and Project Manager, Access Info Europe

+ 34 622 468 736
adam@access-info.org

Access Info Europe is a human rights organisation based in Madrid which
works to promote and defend the right of access to information by promoting
the transparency of national and international public bodies

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