Madrid 29 October 2012 – Access Info Europe has been ordered to pay €3000 to the Spanish government for asking what it is doing to fight against corruption according to a decision of the Spanish Supreme Court which has ruled that the NGO has not right to ask for such information. The decision closes a court case based on a information request submitted by an Access Info Europe board member in 2007.
The main argument used by the Supreme Court is that the request by Access Info Europe to the Ministry of Justice for reports on the implementation of the UN Con-vention against Corruption was in fact not an information request but that the NGO was seeking “explanations” from the government. In taking this course, the Su-preme Court avoided addressing the substance of the arguments about international law and jurisprudence on the right of access to information which Access Info Europe had put forward.
“The Ministry of Justice never answered Access Info Europe’s request for data which it needed for its work, which forced the NGO to turn to the courts, a slow and costly process,” commented Enrique Jaramillo, the lawyer acting on Access Info Europe’s behalf in the case.
“The Supreme Court decision recognises that the administration failed to answer the initial request but nevertheless has condemned the NGO which challenged this administrative silence to pay the costs of taking the case,” explained Jaramillo, adding that “the risk of paying such costs is a massive disincentive for an ordinary citizen who will be unlikely to challenge the failure to respond to an information requests.”
Access Info Europe’s research has revealed a level of administrative silence in Spain of at least 50%.
As part of its obligations under the UNCAC, which it signed in 2006, Spain should prepare self-evaluation reports every two years, detailing what it is doing to fight corruption. These reports have never been made public in Spain.
“This is a remarkable situation in a country which is telling the international com-munity that it is making an effort to improve transparency, in particular in the con-text of fighting against corruption,” said Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe.
“Access Info Europe has already appealed to Spain’s Constitutional Court and is ready to take this case to the European Court of Human Rights,” added Darbishire.
A report published in 2011, “Tell Us What You’ve Done”, found that a number of countries, including Argentina, Armenia, Chile, Colombia, and the UK responded to information requests about the same anti-corruption measures which Access Info Europe was trying to obtain with the original 2007 information request which lead to this case. Access Info Europe had wanted the information to be able to participate fully in the public debate about the fight against corruption in Spain.
Spain is the only European country with a population over one million which still does not have an access to information law.
This situation also means that Spain is failing to comply with its obligations under the UNCAC, which requires in its Article 13 that countries take measures to ensure that “the public has effective access to information”.
“This almost ridiculous situation is the latest in a series of setbacks for transparency in Spain, once again damaging the image and reputation of the Spanish authorities, which are already at a low level due to the profound crisis,” commented Victoria Anderica, Campaigns Coordinator with Access Info Europe.