On 8 December 2022, ARTICLE 19 submitted a third-party intervention to the European Court of Human Rights in a French case concerning access to information related to court proceedings. In our submission, we are asking the European Court to recognise that the right of access to information applies also to documents held by the judiciary and such information should be disclosed under access to information law.
In Dusséaux v. France, Antoine Dusséaux filed requests for information related to the minutes of court hearings in civil law cases heard before the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance, and to the public archive documents of this court. After anonymising the relevant documents, he intended to publish them on the Doctrine.fr website; the website contains a searchable database of court cases in France and is accessible to legal professionals under a subscription payment.
The French authorities rejected Dusséaux’s request,and their decision was subsequently upheld by the Commission for Access to Administrative Documents and French administrative courts.They concluded that the requested information was outside the scope of the access to information law.
Dusséaux eventually turned to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that this constituted a violation of his right to freedom of expression (under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights) interpreted in light of the right to a fair trial (under Article 6 of the Convention).
ARTICLE 19’s third-party intervention argues that the Council of Europe Member States’ international and national standards clearly provide that the right to information applies to the judicial branch of government and to court documents, with only a very limited scope for exceptions.
In the intervention, we argue the following:
- The right of access to information about judicial proceedings is one aspect of the right of access to information, protected by Article 10 of the European Convention.It includes any information held by the judicial branch of the government, including case files, court rulings, court agendas and transcripts from these proceedings.
- Access to court documents is important to ensuring transparency of the judiciary. It is a precondition for establishing and maintaining public trust in judiciary which – in turn – is a necessary condition for a democratic society. Principles of open government and open justice require that the justice system ‘opens up and makes itself known’ by way of ensuring access to information to members of the public. Access to information related to judicial proceedings also promotes transparency of the administration of justice, confidence in the fair administration of justice, and ensures judicial accountability.
- Any person, in particular those performing public watchdog functions, must have a right to access court documents on request. The identity of the requester and the purpose of the commercial use of the requested information are not legitimate reasons for restricting access to information. On the contrary, we argue that Doctrine.fr serves an important public function, as it helps to make information on judicial proceedings accessible to the public. In particular, Doctrine.fr collects court documents and makes them available for researchers or legal professionals. They can then use the information in their work on other cases, study judicial trends and challenge courts in every area of the law.
- When assessing the case against international freedom of information standards, the European Court should find that there was a public interest overriding and domestic authorities should release the requested court documents.
The European Court of Human Rights will now provide the parties to the case with the opportunity to comment on ARTICLE 19’s brief. The decision is expected in 2023.