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The Pan-European General Principles on Freedom of Information and Transparency

  • CoE Conventions

1. Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents

  • Exercise of a right to access to official documents:
    • provides a source of information for the public
    • helps the public to form an opinion on the state of society and on public authorities
    • fosters the integrity, efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of public authorities, so helping affirm their legitimacy
  • Recommendations

2. Recommendation Rec(2002)2 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on access to official documents

  • ‘Member states should guarantee the right of everyone to have access, on request, to official documents held by public authorities. This principle should apply without discrimination on any ground, including that of national origin.’

3. Recommendation No. R (81)19 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the access to information held by public authorities

  • ECtHR judgments

4. ECtHR decision Weber v. Germany (70287/11), January 6, 2015

5. ECtHR judgment Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v. Hungary (18030/11), November 8, 2016

  • The applicant NGO was founded in 1989 with the task of monitoring the implementation of international human-rights standards in Hungary and providing related legal representation, education and training. In the context of a survey regarding the efficiency of the system of public defence, the applicant requested from various police departments the names of the public defenders retained by them and the number of their respective appointments. Seventeen police departments complied with the request; a further five disclosed the requested information following a successful legal challenge. However, the applicant was unsuccessful in its action against a further two police departments which refused to disclose the requested information. The applicant complained under Article 10 that the domestic courts’ refusal to order the disclosure of the information sought amounted to a breach of its right to access to information.
  • Public defenders’ professional activities could not be considered to be a private matter. The information sought did not relate to the public defender’s actions or decisions in connection with the carrying out of their tasks as legal representatives or consultations with their clients and the Government had not demonstrated that the disclosure of the information requested could have affected the public defenders’ enjoyment of their right to respect for private life within the meaning of Article 8 of the Convention. There was no reason to assume that information about the names of public defenders and their appointments could not be known to the public through other means. The interests invoked by the Government with reference to Article 8 were not of such a nature and degree as couldcoirt warrant engaging the application of that provision and bringing it into play in a balancing exercise against the applicant’s right protected by Article 10.
  • Violation of Article 10 of the Convention

6. ECtHR judgment Sérvulo & Associados - Sociedade de Advogados RL and Others v. Portugal, September 15, 2015

  • The case concerned the search of a law firm’s offices and the seizure of computer files and email messages, during an investigation into suspected corruption, acquisition of prohibited interests and money laundering in connection with the purchase by the Portuguese Government of two submarines from a German consortium.
  • The ECtHR found that the seizure of computer records in the offices of the law firm had been compensated for by procedural safeguards to prevent abuse and arbitrariness and to protect legal professional secrecy.
  • No violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

7. Declaration of the Committee of Ministers on human rights and the rule of law in the Information Society