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European Court of Human Rights held that there is a right to access to information to allow individual to exercise right to freedom of expression

Magyar Helsinki Bizottsag v Hungary (application no. 18030/11)

On the 8th November 2016, the European Court of Human Rights held that there is a right to public access to information where access to the information is instrumental to the individual’s exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

The applicant was an NGO based in Budapest.  It was conducting a study on the functioning of the public defenders’ system to contribute to discussion on this public interest issue.  It requested the names of public defenders selected in 2008 and the number of appointments per lawyer involved from several police departments.  These requests for information were refused.  The applicant brought judicial review proceedings which were rejected by domestic courts, finding that while the role of public defenders was a task of the State, the public defenders professional activity was private and their names did not constitute public information. 

The Court held that by denying the applicant the requested information, which was readily available, the authorities had impaired the applicant’s exercise of its freedom to receive and impart information, and therefore interfered with its right under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The central issue was that the authorities had classified the information sought as personal data.  The Court considered that public defenders’ professional activities could not be considered to be a private matter.  It found that disclosure of public defenders’ names and the number of their respective appointments would not have subjected them to exposure to a degree surpassing what they could have foreseen when they registered as public defenders.  The refusal to provide the information had impaired the applicant NGO’s contribution to a public debate on a matter of general interest.  There had not been a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the measure complained of and the legitimate aim pursued.  The Court found that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.

Read Inforrm article here.