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Twelve countries sign world's first treaty on access to information

Twelve European countries have signed the world's first treaty on access to information, report ARTICLE 19 and Access Info Europe.

Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Slovenia and Sweden became the first states to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents at a meeting of Ministers of Justice held in Tromso, Norway on 18 June.

Although the convention sets a low minimum standard on the right of access to information, it does establish a right for anyone to request "official documents" - all information held by public authorities - at no charge. The convention also contains optional provisions such as whether judicial and legislative bodies will be fully subject to the right to request and receive information.

Access Info Europe and ARTICLE 19 welcomed the leadership shown by the 12 countries, and called on the Council of Europe's other 35 member states to sign and ratify the convention.

"Countries like the UK, France, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands were all present during the negotiation of the treaty. Responding to civil society concerns about the treaty, they argued that a minimum-standard convention would attract more signatures. Why then have they not signed?" said Helen Darbishire, executive director of Access Info.

Signing the convention is the first step, and should be followed by ratification. It will enter into force once 10 states have ratified.

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