Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents entered into force
On December 1, the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents, the so-called Tromsø Convention, entered into force.
"It is due to the tenth ratification of the Convention by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine that this international legal document, which defines the right to access official documents, comes into force not only for Ukraine, but for ten countries that have ratified it: Sweden, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Moldova, Croatia, Montenegro, Hungary and Lithuania," Deputy Head of the Council of Europe Office in Ukraine Olena Lytvynenko said at a press conference in Kyiv on Tuesday.
She said the ratification of the convention by Ukraine is an important message and statement at the international stage about Ukraine as an active country that is able to develop valuable practices, share them, and it also shows Ukraine's desire to ensure transparency in the activities of public authorities and to promote transparency in the work of public authorities in other countries.
"This convention determines a set of minimum standards for the proper and fair handling of requests for access to official documents, including the obligation of the state to provide access to an effective and independent mechanism for reviewing decisions in case of refusals to grant access. According to the convention, all official documents are generally public and may be restricted in access only to protect other rights and legitimate interests," Lytvynenko said.
According to her, the Tromsø Convention also establishes a number of basic guarantees of the right to access official documents, among which is that the requester does not have to indicate the reason for requesting access to an official document, and the parties to the convention can grant applicants the right to remain anonymous, any request for access to an official document should be considered within a reasonable time frame.
"Access can only be denied in clearly defined cases based on clearly defined criteria, and the requester has the right to obtain written justification from officials regarding the refusal," Lytvynenko said.
The deputy head of the Council of Europe Office in Ukraine said that after the completion of the ratification process, the provisions of the convention on access to official documents, as norms of direct action, will be applied by judges when deciding on access to public information. She said that after the entry into force of the Tromsø Convention, monitoring agencies will be created for the first time in the field of access to official documents, and Ukraine will be a component of this process. In particular, a group of specialists on access to public documents and a council of the parties will be created, whose activities will be aimed at ensuring that the signatory countries implement the provisions of the Tromsø Convention.
Deputy Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine Taras Shevchenko said the law of Ukraine on access to public information, which was adopted almost ten years ago, provides in the overwhelming majority of issues with greater and better standards of openness and access to information than the minimum standards recorded in the Convention.
"Therefore, Ukraine has something to share, and by launching these minimum standards, which, incidentally, for a long time could not get ten ratifications in the countries of the Council of Europe for various reasons, we, as a country, are launching a discussion on the future of international acts in the field of access to public information or official documents. Since it is obvious that sooner or later, but rather early, the issue of improving these mechanisms, strengthening guarantees will arise," Shevchenko said.