As shown on the website of the Council of Europe (CoE), on 23 November 2021, Ambassador Manuel Montobbio, Permanent Representative of Spain to the (CoE), in the presence of the Deputy Secretary-General, Björn Berge, signed the (CoE) Convention on Access to Official Documents (CETS No. 205), also known as the Tromsø Convention. This brings the list of signatures to 19.
This Convention is the first binding international legal instrument to recognise a general right of access to official documents held by public authorities. Transparency of public authorities is a “key feature of good governance and an indicator of whether or not a society is genuinely democratic and pluralist” is reported on their website. “The right of access to official documents is also essential to the self-development of people and to the exercise of fundamental human rights“. It also strengthens public authorities’ legitimacy in the eyes of the public, and its confidence in them.
The Tromsø Convention lays down a right of access to official documents. Limitations on this right are only permitted in order to protect certain interests like national security, defence or privacy.
The treaty sets forth the minimum standards to be applied in the processing of requests for access to official documents (forms of and charges for access to official documents), review procedure and complementary measures and it has the flexibility required to allow national laws to build on this foundation and provide even greater access to official documents.
A Group of Specialists on Access to Official Documents will monitor the implementation of this Convention by the Parties.
The commitment to sign and ratify the Tromsø Convention was secured by civil society, with active involvement of Access Info, as part of the co-creation of Spain‘s IV OGP Action Plan during 2020.
Access Info is now calling on the Spanish government to move swiftly with the ratification process. This will require reform of Spain’s 2013 Transparency Law, which is out of line with the Tromsø Convention, in particular as it does not apply to all information held by all public bodies, with limitations on requesting “internal communications” and on information covered by other access laws, such as access to documents held in public archives.
Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info said:
“The top priority now is to ensure that the right of access to information applies to all information held by all public bodies, which could be done as part of the reforms being discussed under the current Open Government Action Plan.
The Tromsø Convention is the world’s first binding treaty on access to information, and it came into force on 1 December 2020.
It has been ratified by 11 countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, Montenegro, Norway, the Republic of Moldova, Sweden, and Ukraine. The most recent ratification was Iceland, on 10 February 2021. A further eight countries, including now Spain, have signed the convention but have not yet ratified it.
The Council of Europe has yet to establish the oversight body for the Tromsø Convention, the “Council of Europe Access Info Group”, but candidates will be considered at a meeting to take place on 29 November 2021. Once Spain has ratified the Convention, it will be required to report to the Group on the law and its implementation.