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Refusal of a development agency, which is a public body, to disclose information about plans to allow a private company to develop a public beach area, violated the constitutional right to freedom of expression, speech and publication of a non-profit organization dedicated to protection of the environment, because the organization acted in the public interest in seeking more information on the proposed transaction.
The respondent public authority, the Urban Development Agency (UDA), entered into a lease agreement with a private company, E.A.P Networks (EAP) in order to hand over the development, management and control of Galle Face Green, a public beach promenade. The petitioner, Environmental Foundation Ltd., a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the environment, requested from the UDA the following information: 1) order vesting the Galle Face Green in the UDA; 2) lease agreement with EAP and 3) approved plan of development of the Galle Face Green. Respondent refused to provide the requested information.
The Court concluded that the UDA is an organ of the government and is obliged to protect the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution including the right of any person to exercise freedom of speech and expression regarding matters of public interest. Refusal of access to information by the UDA thus matconstituted a violation of the petitioner’s constitutional right. The Court stated that although there is no explicit right to information under the Constitution, the right to freedom of speech, expression and publication guaranteed by the Constitution in order to be meaningful and effective should ensure the right of a person to receive certain information from public authorities on matters of public interest. The right exists where the public interest in disclosure of information outweighs the concerns of confidentiality in official communications. As the Court held that the petitioner acted in the public interest and that the UDA failed to produce documents proving that the Galle Face Green has been vested in it, the Court ruled that the agreement between the UDA and EAP was ultra vires and had no force. The Galle Face Green should be preserved as a public place and the Government of Sri Lanka should provide resources for this purpose.
Judgment of the Court.
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