FREEDOM OF INFORMATION PRINCIPLES

By the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI)

1. Access to information is a right of everyone. Anyone may request information, regardless of nationality or profession. There should be no citizenship requirements and no need to justify why the information is being sought.

2. Access is the rule — secrecy the exception! All information held by public bodies is public in principle. Information can be withheld only for a narrow set of legitimate reasons set forth in international law and also codified in national law.

3. The right applies to all public bodies. The public has a right to receive information in the possession of any institution funded by the public and private bodies performing public functions, such as water and electricity providers.

4. Making requests should be simple, speedy and freeMaking a request should be simple. The only requirements should be to supply a name, address and description of the information sought. Requesters should be able to file requests in writing or orally. Information should be provided immediately or within in a short time frame. The cost should not be greater than the reproduction of documents.

5. Officials have a duty to assist requesters. Public officials should assist requesters in making their requests. If a request is submitted to the wrong public body, officials should transfer the request to the appropriate body.

6. Refusals must be justified. Governments may only withhold information from public access if disclosure would cause demonstrable harm to legitimate interests, such as national security or privacy. These exceptions must be clearly and specifically defined by law. Any refusal must clearly state the reasons for withholding the information.

7. The public interest takes precedence over secrecy. Information must be released when the public interest outweighs any harm in releasing it. There is a strong presumption that information about threats to the environment, health, or human rights, and information revealing corruption, should be released, given the high public interest in such information.

8. Everyone has the right to appeal an adverse decision. All requesters have the right to a prompt and effective judicial review of a public body’s refusal or failure to disclose information.

9. Public bodies should proactively publish core information. Every public body should make readily available information about its functions and responsibilities, without need for a request. This information should be current, clear and in plain language.

10. The right should be guaranteed by an independent bodyAn independent agency, such as an ombudsperson or commissioner, should be established to review refusals, promote awareness and advance the right to access information.

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