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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title II - Promoting a Culture of Openness

Sec. 9. Ensuring Legal Recourse

Parliament shall enact legislation to ensure that citizens have effective access to legal or judicial recourse in instances where citizens’ access to government or parliamentary information is in dispute.

Laws and regulations establishing standards of openness and transparency in parliaments are often rendered moot if not accompanied with an enforcement mechanism for citizens and members of parliament. In order for the citizen rights to be protected and for open parliaments to be realized, citizens must be able to have recourse to legal remedies when their rights have been violated. The Handbook on Transparency and Accountability of Parliament, produced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the General Secretariat of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia, noted about the right of legal recourse: “This legal guarantee is critical, because the parliament could be sued to force it to record all sessions, not merely Plenary Sessions or Committee sessions.”[1]

Principles outlining this point have been developed for many years in the context of access to information debates in countries around the world. Depending on the region, country, and specific type of information requested, there are differing procedures for obtaining certain types of information. Right2INFO.org outlines information on right to information laws and procedures for obtaining information in more than 60 countries around the world.[2] The European Parliament’s new law regarding information specifies that the office of parliament should inform citizens about “the services to which citizens may refer to obtain support, information or administrative redress,”[3] with recourse varying, depending on the information at hand.

Several different methods of enforcement are available. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative highlights a legal enforcement mechanism that ensures meetings are held in public, “Where a body holds a secret meeting or makes a decision during an executive session that should have been open, the law should permit any member of the public to bring a lawsuit and the courts should have the power to nullify action taken by a public body in violation of the law ‘upon reasonable cause shown’.”[4] In Indonesia, for instance, “Every public information applicant has the right to file a suit in court if he/she is obstructed from obtaining, or fails to obtain public information pursuant to the provision of [Freedom of Information] law.”[5] In Scandinavia, the position of Ombudsman originated to allow individual members of the public a means for redressing unlawful actions of public authorities. This role of an ombudsman has spread globally, to countries including Ireland, Brazil, and Argentina.[6] In South Africa, parliament has an internal appeals process for unsatisfied information requests as well as opportunities to take complaints to the court system.[7] In the UK, citizens may seek an internal review if they are not satisfied with responses from the parliament on freedom of information requests by contacting the Freedom of Information Officer, using procedures that are made clear on the UK Parliament’s website.[8] Citizens may further appeal decisions to an Information Rights Tribunal under the rules of several transparency laws.[9]


[1] UNDP, Handbook on Transparency and Accountability in Parliament, p. 9 and p. 36. http://www.agora-parl.org/sites/default/files/UNDP%20-%20Transparency%20and%20Accountability%20of%20Parliament%20-%20EN%20-%202009.pdf. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[2] Right2INFO.org, http://www.right2info.org. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[3] Public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents, P7_TA-PROV0580, A7-0426/2011, Rapporteur: Michael Cashman, 1a

[4] Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Implementing Access to Information, 2008, http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/rti/implementing_ati.pdf. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[5] Republic of Indonesia, Public Information Disclosure Act, 4/30/2008, http://ccrinepal.org/files/documents/legislations/12.pdf. Accessed 6/11/2012.

[6] IPU, Parliament and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century: A Guide to Good Practice, pp. 74-75; Brazil Chamber of Deputies, Camara dos Deputados, pamphlet.

[7] Parliamentary Montoring Group (PMG) South Africa, The Legislative Process, Part 4 http://www.pmg.org.za/parlinfo/sectionb3. Accessed 6/12/2012

[8] Website of the UK Parliament, Internal reviews and appeals. http://www.parliament.uk/site-information/foi/foi-general/commons-foi/commons-foi-reviews/. Accessed 6/13/2012.

[9] See http://www.justice.gov.uk/tribunals/information-rights. Accessed 6/13/2012.