The public comment period for this legislation has ended.

Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

0 section comments

Title IV - Making Parliamentary Information Easily Accessible

Sec. 28. Ensuring Physical Access to Parliament

Parliament and its proceedings shall be physically accessible and open to all citizens subject only to demonstrable public safety and space limitations.

The transparency of parliament relies on the ability of citizens, the media and civil society groups to closely observe all proceedings and votes.  Providing physical access to the plenary not only is a method of providing information about the session, but carries important symbolic value in communicating the openness of the parliament.  The notion that the building that houses parliament must be physically open to all interested persons is consistent with benchmarks for democratic parliaments. According to the CPA, “The Legislature shall be accessible and open to citizens and the media, subject only to demonstrable public safety and work requirements.”[1] Where space constraints exist, the existence of a media and public gallery for citizens to observe plenary sessions is important as a symbol of parliamentary transparency, with any restrictions on access narrowly defined, publicly available, and non-discriminatory.

Most parliaments today permit access to a public or visitors’ gallery to observe plenary sessions and many do so for committee hearings. In South Africa, for example, this value was even written into the Constitution, which states, “The National Assembly must conduct its business in an open manner, and hold its sittings, and those of its committees, in public … [and] may not exclude the public, including the media, from a sitting of a committee unless it is reasonable and justifiable to do so in an open and democratic society.”[2] However, there are legitimate security concerns facing parliaments and public servants and it is important that parliaments institute relevant security measures. In 1999, after obtaining passes allowing them to enter parliament, gunmen killed the Prime Minister of Armenia, the Speaker of Parliament, and a number of others, claiming that they wanted to punish “corrupt officials.” Parliamentarians have been the targets of violence in both new and developed democracies. Nevertheless, safety or other restrictions on public access must not be overly burdensome – giving citizens the impression that their observation of parliamentary proceedings is unwelcome – or be applied in a discriminatory fashion.

[1] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §9.1.1.

[2] Constitution of South Africa, Section 59, 1b and 2.