Access to Public Information
Dotcom Trading 121 (PTY) Ltd v. King
Closed Expands Expression
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The Sri Lanka Supreme Court held that the refusal of a government agency to disclose information about plans to allow a private company to develop a public beach area violated the constitutional right to freedom of expression, speech and publication of a non-profit organization dedicated to protection of the environment. Although the right to freedom of information is not explicit in the constitution, the Court reasoned that in order for the right to freedom of expression and publication to be meaningful and effective, it had to also ensure the right of a person to receive information from public authorities on matters of public interest.
This analysis was contributed by Right2Info.org.
The respondent public authority, the Urban Development Agency (UDA), entered into a lease agreement with a private company, E.A.P Networks (EAP) in order to hand over the development, management and control of Galle Face Green, a public beach promenade. The petitioner, Environmental Foundation Ltd., a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the environment, requested from the UDA the following information: 1) order vesting the Galle Face Green in the UDA; 2) lease agreement with EAP and 3) approved plan of development of the Galle Face Green. Respondent refused to provide the requested information.
The petitioner argued that the respondent’s failure to produce the information constituted an infringement of its right to freedom of expression under Article 14(1)(a) of the Constitution.
The Court concluded that the UDA is an organ of the government and is obliged to protect the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution including the right of any person to exercise freedom of speech and expression regarding matters of public interest. Refusal of access to information by the UDA thus constituted a violation of the petitioner’s constitutional right.
The Court stated that although there is no explicit right to information under the Constitution, the right to freedom of speech, expression and publication guaranteed by the Constitution in order to be meaningful and effective should ensure the right of a person to receive certain information from public authorities on matters of public interest. The right exists where the public interest in disclosure of information outweighs the concerns of confidentiality in official communications.
The Court found that the UDA had acted ultra vires in entering into the agreement with EAP and failed to produce documents proving that the Galle Face Green has been vested in it. It therefore ruled that the agreement between the UDA and EAP was ultra vires and had no force, that Galle Face Green should be preserved as a public place and that the Government of Sri Lanka should provide resources for this purpose.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision expands expression by establishing that the right to freedom of expression includes a right to information that should properly be in the public domain.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
As with Supreme Courts in other jurisdictions, the Sri Lanka Supreme Court’s rulings take precedence over all lower Courts
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