Access to Public Information
Company Doe v. Public Citizen
Closed Expands Expression
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The Constitutional Court of Hungary held that the right to access information of public interest is a fundamental right protected by the Hungarian Constitution and that pursuant to this right, local governments were obliged to provide access to the proceedings and decisions of their bodies. The Constitutional Court considered the constitutionality of several provisions of Act LXV of 1990 on Local Governments which gave town councils the discretion to close meetings, and which denied access to proposals and minutes of such meetings. The Constitutional Court found that the relevant provisions violated the constitutional right to access and distribute information of public interest.
This case analysis was contributed by Right2Info.org
This case concerns a constitutional complaint challenging Articles 12(3), 12(4) and 17(3) of Act LXV of 1990 on Local Governments before the Constitutional Court of Hungary. Article 12(3) stipulated that town councils could convene closed sessions on “justified grounds”. Article 12(4) stated that town councils could opt for votes by secret ballots on the same basis. Article 17(3) provided that constituents could gain access only to proposals and minutes of open meetings.
The complaint challenged the Act’s non-disclosure provision as inconsistent with Article 61(1) of the Constitution which guaranteed to everyone the right to freely express his opinion, and to access and distribute information of public interest. It was further argued that the non-disclosure provision contradicted the principle of the sovereignty of the people, as provided for under Article 2 of Act LXV of 1990 on Local Governments.
The Constitutional Court of Hungary stated that the right to information is a fundamental right flowing directly from the Constitution and that it enhances the democratic operation of the state. The Court noted that: “Free access to information of public interest promotes democratic values in elected bodies, the executive power, and public administration by enabling people to check the lawfulness and efficiency of their operations. Because of the complexity of the civic sphere, the citizens’ sway over administrative decisions and the management of public affairs cannot be effective unless public authorities are willing to disclose pertinent information.” [p. 184]
In light of this, the Constitutional Court ruled that local governments were obliged to provide access to proceedings and decisions of local government bodies, particularly of town councils. The Constitutional Court went on to find that, due to the wording of Article 12 of Act LXV of 1990 on Local Governments providing almost absolute discretion for the town councils to close meetings, the Act placed an unnecessary and disproportionate limitation on the right to receive information and the right to protection of personal data.
Moreover, the Constitutional Court determined that the Act placed an unnecessary and disproportionate limitation on the right to information by categorically denying access to the proposals and minutes of closed meetings irrespective of their content. In reaching this conclusion, the Court highlighted that any legislation that designates documents as classified on the basis of something other than their content is unconstitutional.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case expands expression as it recognizes that local governments in Hungary are obliged to provide access to the proceedings and decisions of its bodies. Furthermore, the Constitutional Court of Hungary recognizes the fundamental right to freedom of information under the Hungarian Constitution, and affirms its importance to democratic oversight.
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.
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