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The right to receive information revived…

By Steven | May 3, 2010

I have long thought that our official information laws ought to be affected by the NZ Bill of Rights Act’s guarantee of freedom of expression, which says:

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.

Surely, I thought, the right to receive information could include information about the workings of government. Yes, there will often be reasons for government to withhold information. The rights in the BORA can be limited if the restrictions are reasonable, prescribed by law, and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. So most of the withholding grounds in the Official Information Act, for example, would probably pass muster. But there ought to be an argument that those grounds ought to be interpreted and applied consistently with the right to receive information in the BORA, and a convincing justification made out if information is to be denied. The same would go for applications for access to court material. And perhaps even to the Privacy Act.

But the balance of authority has been against this proposition.  I debated this with Andrew Geddis and others in the comments section of this MLJ post. I cited NZ and European authority against this interpretation of the right to freedom of expression. (I could also have cited the Hutton inquiry).

But recent EHCR authority may indicate a change of approach – at least where the information requested can be regarded as significant for the media’s social watchdog role. As Dan Tench notes, this could have implications (in the UK, anyway) for access to court proceedings, government inquiries, government information – and even perhaps information held by large corporations that may be required in the public interest.

The UK Court of Appeal has gone some way to accepting this. Might it catch on here?

Topics: NZ Bill of Rights Act, Official Information Act | 11 Comments »

11 Responses to “The right to receive information revived…”

  1. Andrew Says:
    May 4th, 2010 at 11:59 am

    You might also want to look at the Brisbane Declaration adopted yesterday at the official UN event to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. UNESCO at least, (maybe other UN agencies too) appears to have explicitly made the connection between Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the right to government held information commonly articulated in freedom of information laws. There’s more on the UNESCO site, and on the overall UN site.

    I haven’t yet seen the text of Frank La Rue’s speech (he’s the United Nations´ Special Rapporteur of Freedom of Opinion and Expression), but I think the whole event in Brisbane can be watched online.

  2. Hugh Tomlinson Says:
    May 6th, 2010 at 2:59 am

    There are two posts about the Brisbane declaration and about “freedom of information” as an aspect of freedom of expression on the Inforrm blog

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