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Navarro Gutierrez v. Lizano Fait

last modified Aug 21, 2012 12:10 PM

Case number:
Exp: 02-000808-0007-CO, Res: 2002-03074
Country:
Costa Rica
Date of decision:
2 April 2002
Court / Arbiter:
Supreme Court, Constitutional Chamber ( Constitutional )

Relevant law :
Constitution, Title IV (individual rights and guarantees, including guarantee of free speech, free public opinion, and right to access information on matters of public interest);
International Monetary Fund Articles of Agreement, Article 9 (status, immunities, and privileges) and Article 12, Section 8 (communication of views to members) ( Constitution, Other Law )

Decision:

Because information of public character is necessary to the formation of free and open public discourse guaranteed by the Constitution, the Central Bank of Costa Rica must disclose a report by the International Monetary Fund containing information on Costa Rica’s economy.


Keywords:
Commercial confidentiality (including financial/economic interests of private parties or public authorities)
Constitution
Economic information (including of public authorities, national government; not of individuals)
Financial institutions (including banks)
Freedom of expression (including RTI as element of or integral to)
Open government principles (including accountability, anti-corruption, democracy, participation in government, transparency)
Other law (non-RTI)

Case details:

Facts

Carlos Manuel Navarro Gutiérrez, as Secretary General of the Employees Union of the Ministry of Economy, filed a complaint against Eduardo Lizano Fait, Executive President of the Central Bank of Costa Rica.  Navarro Gutiérrez claimed that Fait had violated his constitutional right to information by refusing to release an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report that a national newspaper had requested from the bank.  Fait claimed that IMF reports are not public information because they are not traditionally made available to the public.  Fait also argued that Articles IX and XII of the IMF Articles of Agreement establish the confidentiality of IMF reports and prohibit the bank from disclosing their contents.

Decision

The Court explained that the right to information is guaranteed by the Constitution because it is essential to “the formation and existence of free public opinion” and is “necessary for the exercise of other rights inherent to a functioning democratic system” (para. IV).  Therefore, “the state must guarantee that information of a public character and importance is made known to the citizens and, in order for this to be achieved, the state must encourage a climate of freedom of information … [and] the state has the obligation to offer the necessary facilities and eliminate existing obstacles to its attainment” (para. VII).  Because the IMF report contained information about Costa Rica’s economy, the Court found that the report had the requisite public character to be protected by the constitutional right to information.

The Court also held that the IMF Articles of Agreement did not apply.  It acknowledged that private and confidential information without any “public relevance” is not subject to disclosure (para. III). But, upon examination of Articles IX and XII of the IMF Articles of Agreement, the Court found that the responsibility of the IMF and its members to keep information in the reports confidential applies only in relation to third parties who are not citizens or representatives of the country to which the information pertains.  Here, a Costa Rican citizen and Costa Rican newspaper were requesting an IMF report that contained economic information about Costa Rica.  Consequently, the obligation under the IMF Articles of Agreement to keep country economic data confidential from third parties did not apply.

Resources:

Judgment of the court. (in Spanish)

OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, 2003 Annual Report, Chapter IV, pp. 159-160.