17 November 2011
BUAV v Information Commissioner and Newcastle University (EA/2010/0064) – read judgment
There is no doubt that freedom of expression plays a starring role in the human rights fairy tale. While she is carried aloft on the soaring rhetoric of citizens’ rights from the newsrooms to protesters’ rallies, the right to information, her shy stepsister, is rarely allowed out. How can that be? Surely we can’t have the one without the other?
The key lies in the Strasbourg Court’s traditionally restrictive interpretation of the relevant part of Article 10 – “the freedom to … to receive and impart information” (10(1)). Although the right to information is explicit (unlike many of the other rights the Court has conjured from the Convention), it does not entitle a citizen a right of access to government-held information about his personal position, nor does it embody an obligation on the government to impart such information to the individual (Leander v Sweden (1987) 9 EHRR 433). This approach is changing, particularly in relation to press applicants. But the culture remains hostile; as the Court says “it is difficult to derive from the Convention a general right of access to administrative data and documents” (Loiseau v. France (dec.), no. 46809/99, ECHR 2003-XII – a self-serving statement if ever there was one, given that it is not the Convention but the Court’s own case law that has been so tight-fisted in the past.