ARTICLE 19 has made a submission to Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of Magyar Helsinki Bizottsag v Hungary, a case regarding the refusal, by certain local governments, to disclose information as to the appointments of legal aid lawyers.
This case has particular significance in being the first opportunity for the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR to officially recognise the Right to Information established under Article 10 ECHR in a case judgment.
The requests were made with a view to identifying patterns of repeat appointments (effectively creating commercial relationships) between certain legal aid lawyers and the authorities. The requests were refused on the grounds of the private character of lawyers’ activities.
The submission argues that this failure to communicate information in the public interest by a public body is an interference with Right to Information established under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
While the submission accepts that the right of access to official information is subject to a balancing exercise where that information constitutes personal data, Article 10 provides a right which applies to information which is th public interest- there is little scope for restriction on freedom of expression in matters of public interest.
The lawyers were paid from the public purse, and the applicant was acting as public watchdog in investingating the appointment of publicly paid lawyers and the quality of their service: ARTICLE 19 considers this a matter of the highest public interest.
This information should, therefore, have been made available to the public, and its restriction constitutes a violation of the Right to Information.
The submission was written by Richard Clayton QC of 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square and Christopher Knight of 11KBW, and was made jointly with the Media Legal Defence Initiative, the Campaign for Freedom of Information, the Access to Information Programme, and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.