We bring together information on the legal frameworks for the right to information from more than 100 countries.
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Constitutional Protections of the Right to Information

last modified Jan 09, 2012 08:45 AM

Overview

The right of access to official information is now protected by the constitutions of 59 countries. At least 53, and arguably all 59 expressly guarantee a “right” to “information” or “documents,” or else impose an obligation on the government to make information available to the public. The top courts of additional countries have interpreted their constitutions to recognize the right implicitly.

Almost all of these countries also have statutes that elaborate and implement a right to information. In countries with such laws, the question as to whether the right also has constitutional status may have little practical significance. Nonetheless, we suggest that the fact that so many countries have afforded the right constitutional status is noteworthy, and provides support for strengthening the status of the right under international and regional law. The fundamental status of the right has been particularly recognized in Latin America, even before the Inter-American Court’s landmark judgment in the Claude Reyes case.

Constitutions that guarantee less than a general right to government-held information are not included in this count. For instance, we do not include constitutions that guarantee a right only to personal information, or to environmental information, or extend the right only to journalists. Nor do we include in this count constitutions that recognize a “right to freely seek and receive information,” or variations of that phrasing, for instance as part of the right to freedom of expression, unless case-law, actual practice and/or assessments of in-country experts support the conclusion that the right includes a general right to information. We do, however, include in this count a right to government-held information that is limited to information of public interest (as found, e.g., by Canada’s Supreme Court in a 2010 judgment, and by the European Court of Human Rights.

We note that the constitutional status of the right to information is disputed in at least seven European countries that we include in our list. In Austria and Belgium, the constitutional provision is viewed by some as imposing important duties on government but not as conferring an enforceable right on individuals. The constitutions of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Macedonia, Russia and Ukraine all guarantee the right to freely receive information but not, explicitly, a right to receive information from public bodies. A few lower courts in some of those countries have ruled that their constitution does impose a right to receive, or a duty to provide, information. Moreover, all of the seven countries have laws that implement a general right to information, although the laws of Austria and Ukraine are relatively weak. We have included these seven countries in our list on the ground that the right is accorded special importance in those countries, sometimes as a right of the citizen, sometimes as a democratic imperative. Also, in all of the countries, at least some access to information advocates and/or other experts claim that the right does have constitutional status. While such claims are not decisive, we have allowed them to tip the scales in favour of inclusion. We welcome readers’ comments and feedback and, in particular, any authoritative interpretations, such as relevant case-law or academic analysis.

According to the above criteria, the constitutions of the following 59 countries guarantee a right to information:

  • 12 countries in the Americas (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela);
  • 18 in Europe clearly grant a right to information (Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden);
  • 7 in Europe arguably guarantee a right to information (Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Georgia, Macedonia, Russia, Ukraine);
  • 6 in Asia and the Pacific (Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Thailand); and
  • 16 in Africa (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda).

The top courts of at least five additional countries have interpreted their constitutions or other basic laws to protect the right to information implicitly: Canada, France, India, Israel and South Korea. Courts below the top courts have interpreted their constitutions to give rise to the right to information in at least several additional countries including Paraguay, Uruguay and Russia.

The language of constitutional provisions is set forth by country in the right-hand menu on the above page, and also included with our list of laws and constitutional provisions.

Top courts of at least nine of these countries have ruled that the constitutional right is enforceable in court even without enactment of an implementing law, including Chile, Costa Rica, India, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, Uganda and Uruguay. Of these countries, Chile, India, South Africa, South Korea, Uganda, and Uruguay have adopted ATI laws. In three countries – Costa Rica, Paraguay, and the Philippines – which have yet to adopt ATI laws, the actionable constitutional right is all the more important.

The constitutions of a few additional countries – including Fiji – call for enactment of legislation to guarantee a statutory right of access to information.

At least five constitutions – of Kenya, Panama, Poland, Serbia and South Africa – expressly extend the right to information to state owned enterprises and/or private entities that exercise public functions as well as to public authorities. Indeed, the Constitutions of South Africa and Kenya guarantee a right of access to “any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights” (South Africa) or “for the exercise or protection of any right or fundamental freedom” (Kenya).

Several countries that provide a right to information in their constitutions also have constitutional procedures that enable the right to be directly enforceable by the courts. For instance, in several Latin American countries (including Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru) the constitutional right to information may be enforced via a habeas data petition or amparo.

Of the arguably 59 constitutions that expressly guarantee the right to information, at least 24 extend that right to “everyone”: six in the Americas – Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Venezuela; 14 in Europe - Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Romania, Slovenia; and four others: New Zealand, Mozambique, Seychelles and Uganda. Several constitutions – including those of Hungary, Kenya, Macedonia, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden – expressly limit the right to citizens. Other constitutions are ambiguous on this point.

Constitutions and courts have set forth several lines of reasoning underlying or giving rise to the right to information:

  • Several emphasize the importance of the right as the foundation for a democratic society, recognizing that citizens need information if they are to be able to participate effectively in decision-making and holding officials accountable (e.g., Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Hungary, Mexico, Peru).
  • Several courts have interpreted the right to information to be an implicit component of the right to freedom of expression. For instance, in the Forests Survey Inspection Request Case, South Korea’s Constitutional Court ruled that the right to information is implicit in the right to freedom of speech and press, given that free expression and communication of ideas requires free formation of ideas as a precondition, and that “[f]ree formation of ideas is in turn made possible by guaranteeing access to sufficient information.” Colombia’s Constitutional Court has advanced similar reasoning in several cases. Freedom of speech and access to official documents in Sweden have been viewed as closely related since at least the original Freedom of the Press Act of 1766.
  • Some constitutions note the particular importance of the right for journalists and the media (e.g., Ecuador).
  • Colombia’s Constitutional Court has noted the close relationship between the right and the rights of victims of serious human rights violations to truth, reparation and justice.
  • India’s Supreme Court concluded in S.P. Gupta v. Union of India that the right to know arises not only from the right to freedom of expression but also, importantly, from the right to life.
  • South Africa’s Constitution recognizes the importance of the right to information in exercising and protecting all other rights.

The above-summarized reasoning, unusual provisions, tallied information and more, as well as citations, are supported by or supplied in the following country paragraphs.

For useful commentaries on constitutional protections of RTI, see the Centre for Law and Democracy's Entrenching RTI: An Analysis of Constitutional Protections of the Right to Information (2012, and The Constitutional Right to Information by Peled, Roy and Rabin, Yoram, Columbia Human Rights Review, Volume 42(2) (2010).

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Archive

You will find detailed country information that is not regularly updated in our Archive.

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Related cases

 

Relevant Cases

Title:Country:Year:Court / Arbiter:
A. Alsina c. Estado Uruguay 2002 Appellate
Acordada de la Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación No. 1/2004 Exp. 315/2004 Adm. Gral. Argentina 2004 Supreme
ADC v. PAMI Argentina 2012 Supreme The right of access to public information is provided for in the Constitution. The state has the duty to adopt legislative or regulatory measures to guarantee this right. There is a direct and immediate relationship between access to public information and the distribution of public advertising budgets.
Appeal for constitutional protection presented by the Representative José Humberto Arce Salas against the Bank of Costa Rica Costa Rica 2003 Supreme
Bennett Coleman & Co. v. Union of India India 1975 Supreme
In re Articles 27 and 42 of Decree 1799 of 2000 Colombia 2003 Constitutional Information unrelated to maintaining national security and with no material link to protecting territorial integrity and defending democratic institutions or to the enjoyment of fundamental individual rights, including the right to privacy, may not be restricted.
Canada (Attorney General) v. Canada (Information Commissioner) Canada 2004 First instance
Capital Cities Media, Inc. v. Chester United States 1986 Appellate
Casas Cordero and Others v. the National Customs Service Chile 2007 Constitutional
Case No. # 237203 France 2002 Supreme
Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi and Izama Angelo v. Attorney General Uganda 2010 First instance In seeking disclosure of the contents of confidential oil contracts between the government and various companies, the applicants failed to meet the legal standard of Sec. 34(b) of the Access to Information Act because they did not show that the public benefit in disclosure outweighed the harm to the third parties.
Chavez v. National Housing Authority Philippines 2007 Supreme The 1987 Constitution provides that, despite a lack of enabling law that could require government bodies to publicly disclose information related to government projects and policies, there is a still a duty to permit access to such information.
Clutchco (Pty) Ltd v. Davis South Africa 2005 Supreme Constitution and ATI Act allow for access to information held by private parties when reasonably required; the petitioner shareholder’s need for corporate documents was insufficiently pressing in this case.
Common Cause v. Union of India India 1996 Supreme The scope of the term "conduct of election" in Article 324 of the Constitution of India is broad enough to give the Election Commission authority to issue directions for political parties to submit details of all election-related expenditures.
Conrad Stefaans Brümmer v. the Minister of Social Development and Others South Africa 2009 Constitutional A thirty-day time limit for parties who wish to challenge a denial of a request for information in court is inadequate; until the legislature passes a law setting a fair time limit, requesters will have 180 days in which to file.
Constitutional Court decision C-038/96 Colombia 1996 Constitutional
Constitutional Court decision C-038/96 Colombia 1996 Constitutional
Constitutional Court decision T-216/05 Colombia 2005 Constitutional
Constitutional Court decision T-227/03 Colombia 2003 Constitutional
Constitutional Court decision T-473/92 Colombia 1992 Constitutional
Casas Cordero and Others v. National Customs Service Chile 2007 Constitutional The right of access to government information is implicitly protected by the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of expression and the constitutional principle of a democratic republic. Information held by Chile’s Customs Agency regarding tariffs must be disclosed unless disclosure would clearly harm the legitimate commercial interests of an objecting third party.
Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación, S.622.XXXIII “S.,V. c/ M., D.A. s/medidas precautorias Argentina 1998 Supreme Where the essential rights of freedom of the press and individual privacy collide, a court must engage in a factual inquiry to determine the stronger interest; when such privacy interest involves a minor’s personal family situation, the dissemination of the information may be prohibited.
Dagg v. Canada (Minister of Finance) Canada 1997 Appellate
In re Constitutionality of various acts of primary and secondary legislation related to archives and classification regime Hungary 1994 Constitutional Freedom of scientific life, the right to protection of personal data and the right to freedom of information need to be balanced against one another. The state is obliged to guarantee access to documents of communist ruling parties for scientific research. Freedom of information and scientific life cannot be regulated by secondary legislation. Only people holding public power can classify information as a state or official secret.
Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft United States 2002 Appellate
Dj. Zanni vs Zhilkomservis No.3 Housing Company Russia 2011 First instance Housing companies have to disclose budgetary and other information concerning their activities. Information can only be withheld if it falls under and an exemption stipulated by law.
Elizabeth Flores Negri v. Rector of the National University of Asunción Paraguay 2007 First instance The Paraguayan Constitution provides that people have the right to petition governmental authorities for information as well as the right to be provided with that information, unless the authority timely responds with an exception specifically provided for by the American Converntion of Human Rights and related regional jurisprudence.
Empresa Folha da Manhã S/A v. the President of the House of Representatives Brazil 2009 Supreme The House of Representatives has a duty to disclose to the media information about expenses of its members.
Environmental Foundation Ltd., v. Urban Development Authority of Sri Lanka Sri Lanka 2005 Supreme 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.
Finding of the Constitutional Court, no. I. ÚS 57/00, 2000 Slovakia 2000 Constitutional
Finding of the constitutional Court no. IV. ÚS40/03, 2003 Slovakia 2003 Constitutional
Forests Survey Inspection Request Case [Petitioner v. Supervisor of County of Ichon] South Korea 1989 Constitutional Restriction of access to information is unreasonable—in violation of a person’s right to know—where the information has not been classified as confidential, disclosure does not implicate the invasion of another’s privacy, and such person has a direct interest in the information.
Garcia v. Board of Investments Philippines 1989 Supreme Applications filed by a foreign investment group to build a petrochemical plant are covered by the constitutional right to information and have to be disclosed with the exception of privileged information containing the investors’ trade secrets and other confidential financial information.
Greenwatch (U) Ltd v. Attorney General of Uganda and Uganda Electricity Transmission Co.Ltd Uganda 2002 First instance A power company wholly owned by the state is a government agent and therefore power agreements to which it is a party are public documents, although corporate citizens requesting access to such documents must adduce evidence as to status of their members as citizens, which an organization did not do.
Houchins v. KQED United States 1978 Supreme
In re Constitutionality of Law No. 20.088 Chile 2005 Constitutional Constitutional amendments providing unrestricted public access to asset declarations of public officials are constitutional and do not conflict with the right of privacy guaranteed by Article 19.
In re the Constitutionality of Provisions on Record Keeping of Governmental Sessions Hungary 2006 Constitutional The government is under the obligation to keep records for public information, whether for a short or a long period of time, because it would otherwise directly and seriously restrict the right of access to public information. An act should regulate the record keeping of governmental sessions.
In re Constitutionality of Acts LXIII of 1992 and LXV of 1995 Hungary 2004 Constitutional Information created for internal use and in connection with the preparation of decisions could be withheld but only if legislation were amended to provide sufficient guarantees against abuse, namely, to ensure that access should not be restricted after a decision has been made, there must be an opportunity to challenge a decision to withhold information on the merits as well as on procedural grounds, the period for restriction must be limited, and the law must clearly define the restricted category of information.
In re the Constitutionality of Act LXV of 1990 on Local Governments Hungary 1992 Constitutional The right to receive and impart information of public interest is a fundamental right and Act LXV of 1990 on Local Governments violates this right by providing town councils with absolute discretion to close meetings and deny access to records of such meetings.
Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Pvt Ltd v. India India 1985 Supreme
Institute for Democracy in South Africa v. African National Congress, et al. South Africa 2005 Appellate Access to information may only be pursued through the Promotion of Access to Information Act (not through Section 32 of the Constitution). Political parties are considered “private bodies” when access to information about private donations is sought.
Kaneko v. Japan (“Hakata Station Film Case”) Japan 1969 Supreme The constitutional protection for freedom of expression incorporates the freedom to report facts, and extends to the freedom to gather news necessary for factual reporting. However, these rights are not absolute and it is not a violation to mandate disclosure by the news media of television footage where necessary to ensure a fair trial.
Kariuki v. Attorney General Kenya 2011 First instance The salaries and allowances of the Armed Forces personnel are not private or confidential and must be disclosed to the requester and the Court.
Legaspi v. Civil Service Commission Philippines 1987 Supreme The Constitution requires government agencies to to provide information upon request; if they do not want to disclose information, they carry the burden of proving that the information is not of public concern or, if it is of public concern, that the information has been specifically exempted by law. Moreover, a citizen does not need to show any legal or special interest in order to establish his or her right to information.
MacDonnell v. Quebec Canada 2002 Supreme
Marina Machneva v. St. Petersburg City Department of the Federal Bailiff Service Russia 2010 First instance A government agency must disclose to the applicant files of all actions taken in response to a disciplinary complaint, except for personal information of other people.
Nairobi Law Monthly Company Limited v. Kenya Electricity Generating Company and Others Kenya 2013 First instance A legal person does not enjoy the rights of the “citizens” to access information held by the state or by another person (private body) under Article 35(1) of the Kenyan Constitution. In order to enforce the right to request information held by another person (private body), a citizen must show that (i) the information is held by a person (not the state) and (ii) the information is required for the exercise or protection of another right. However, a journalists and media outlets may not claim that such information is required for the protection of their rights under Article 33 (freedom of expression) and Article 34 (freedom of the press), because such interpretation would blur the distinction intended by the Constitution in making the two distinct provisions in Article 35(1) and would give the media a special status that elevates it above other entities.
Navarro Gutierrez v. Lizano Fait Costa Rica 2002 Constitutional 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.
Navarro Gutiérrez v. Lizano Fait Costa Rica 2002 Constitutional
Ontario (Public Safety and Security) v. Criminal Lawyers' Association Canada 2010 Supreme Freedom of expression under section 2(b) of the Charter includes the right to request access to government documents. The omission of a public interest override from information disclosure exemptions relating to law enforcement and solicitor-client privilege does not violate the right to freedom of expression under the Charter. The minister’s discretional right to withhold such information has to be reasonable and in accordance with the public interest.
People’s Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL) And Another, v. Union of India India 2003 Supreme
President of the Republic of South Africa. v. M & G Media Ltd. South Africa 2010 Supreme Under the South African Bill of Rights and the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000, conclusory affidavits provided by the President to justify the secrecy of a report of the 2002 Zimbabwe elections prepared by two judges for President Mbeki were insufficient to justify non-disclosure.
Press-Enterprise Co. v. Sup. Ct. of Cal United States 1986 Supreme
Reliance Petrochemicals Ltd v. Proprietors of Indian Express Newspapers Bombay Pvt Ltd India 1989 Supreme
Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia United States 1980 Supreme
Ruby v. Canada Canada 2002 Supreme
S.P. Gupta v. President of India India 1981 Supreme Non-disclosure of information is justifiable only if disclosure would be injurious to the public interest, and injury to the reputation of a public official should not be a consideration.
Sentencia del Tribunal Constitucional, Exp. No. 0644-2004 HD/TC, Oct 17, 2005 Peru 2005 Constitutional
Sentencia del Tribunal Constitucional, Exp. No. 0959-2004-HD/TC, Nov 19, 2004 Peru 2004 Constitutional
Sentencia del Tribunal Constitucional, Exp. No. 1797-2002 HD/TC, Jan 29, 2003 Peru 2003 Constitutional
Sentencia del Tribunal Constitucional, Exp. No. 2579-2003-HD/TC, Apr 6, 2005 Peru 2005 Constitutional
Shalit v. Peres Israel 1990 Supreme Coalition agreements between parliamentary factions, concluded in anticipation of the formation of a government and dealing with the functions of the legislative or executive authorities ought to be published.
State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain India 1975 Supreme Rules of evidence that prevent disclosure of certain government documents in court proceedings may be overridden if the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs the public interest in keeping documents secret.
Tesis: P. LXXXIX/96, IUS: 200111 Mexico 1996 Supreme
The Criminal Lawyers' Association v. The Ministry of Public Safety and Security (formerly The Solicitor General) et al Canada 2007 Appellate
The Prosecution in the trial of Ríos Montt v. Ministry of National Defense Guatemala 2008 Constitutional The public authority must release military operational plans from the past in the prosecution of a former military leader because the plans do not constitute “state secrets” and thus are not protected from disclosure under the exemption in Article 30 of the Constitution.
Transnet Ltd. and Another v. SA Metal Machinery Co (PTY) Ltd. South Africa 2005 Supreme Parties relying on harm to third party interests to justify refusals must show that these harms are "not simply possible, but probable". A confidentiality clause cannot shield a contract of a state company with a third party from disclosure. Requesters need not show legitimate reasons for requesting information.
Trustees For the Time Being of the Biowatch Trust v. Registrar Genetic Resources and Others South Africa 2005 Appellate When denying a request for information about genetically modified corps, the burden of proof lies with the government agency. If the governmental agency is of opinion that information request is not sufficiently specific, it must assist the requester in the process.
Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Another v. Union of India and Another India 2003 Supreme Voters have a fundamental right to know relevant qualifications of candidates for office, including information about their income and assets. Accordingly, a section of a law stating that candidates could not be compelled to disclose any information about themselves other than their criminal records was unconstitutional.
Union of India (UOI) v. Respondent: Association for Democratic Reforms and Another; with People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Another v. Union of India (UOI) and Another India 2002 Supreme Citizens have a right to know about public functionaries and candidates for office, including their assets and criminal and educational backgrounds, which right is derived from the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.
Union of India v. Namit Sharma; State of Rajasthan & Anr v. Namit Sharma India 2013 Supreme Recalling key components of an earlier judgment reading into the Right to Information Act a requirement that appointees to the Information Commission possess judicial qualifications, the Supreme Court of India concluded that it was ultimately for Parliament to decide whether such a requirement was appropriate.
Van Huyssteen and Others NNO v. Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and Others South Africa 1996 First instance A constitutional provision (retained in the current constitution) that every person has a right to information that is “required” for the exercise or protection of any of his or her rights should be interpreted to mean “reasonably required”.