Europe’s access convention criticized

The Council of Europe recently adopted a Convention on Access to Official Documents.

The convention’s language is rather inspiring: it refers to aims of greater unity; ideals and principles; the importance in a pluralistic, democratic society of transparency of public authorities. There is quite a lot about the right to access to official documents to help the public “to form an opinion on the state of society and on public authorities” and to foster “the integrity, efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of public authorities, so helping affirm their legitimacy.”

But the convention has failed to impress international human rights groups. Access Info, ARTICLE 19 and the Open Society Justice Initiative said in a press release the convention had been adopted “without spending the time even to discuss major concerns raised by members of parliament, over 250 civil society groups, a dozen European information commissioners and several governments.”

The three freedom-of-expression organizations said the convention applies only to a narrow range of public bodies; lacks time-limits for responding to requests; lacks a right to appeal to an independent body or court; has a restrictive definition of which documents it covers; and fails to limit state reservations.