Friday, November 11, 2016

Freedom of information is a human right

While we were all freaking out about the US election, the European Court of Human Rights has quietly recognised that freedom of information is a human right:

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights today handed down judgment in the case of Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v. Hungary (application no. 18030/11). It held (15:2) that there is an Article 10 right to public access to information where access to the information is instrumental for the individual’s exercise of his or her right to freedom of expression.

The applicant, Magyar Helsinki Bizottság (Hungarian Helsinki Committee), is an NGO based in Budapest. In pursuit of a survey on the quality of defence provided by public defenders, it requested from a number of police departments the names of the public defenders selected by them in 2008 and the number of appointments per lawyer involved.


The Grand Chamber considered that Article 10(1) of the Convention could be interpreted as including, in the circumstances of the case, a right of access to information, specifying that where the access to information was decisive for the exercise of the right to receive and communicate information, to refuse that access could amount to an interference with the enjoyment of this right.


By denying it access to the requested information, which was ready and available, the domestic authorities had impaired the applicant NGO’s exercise of its freedom to receive and impart information, in a manner striking at the very substance of its Article 10 rights.

[Article 10 is the ECHR's freedom of expression clause, similar to the NZ BORA's Article 14].

There's a little bit more to it - basicly, the applicant has to be a media organisation or NGO engaged in public interest work, and the information has to exist - but its a useful decision. And given the way which European human rights law is influential on NZ decisions, it'll probably be recognised in NZ law if there's a similar case. Though NZ agencies should really be considering requesters' article 14 right to impart information when making OIA decisions anyway...