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06.11.2017

Greek court was right to deny access to information, says European top court

By Emil Weber

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decided on 29th August 2017 to back a domestic court decision in Greece. The court had refused a private citizen’s access to information request concerning a private litigation judgement involving two public figures.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg (photo: Nicoleon, Cour européenne des droits de l'homme, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Mr. Dimitris Sioutis, in summer 2013, had read on a news website about a slander case which had obliged a businessman to pay 150,000 Euros in damages to a Member of Parliament. Mr. Sioutis then lodged a request to the first instance Athens court to be provided with a copy of the decision, but his request was refused by the judge because it lacked “legitimate interest”.

Mr. Sioutis’s application at the ECtHR has been considered inadmissible because it did not fulfil the admissibility criteria required by the European Convention.

The top European human rights court said that it examined whether the requested copy was necessary for Mr.Sioutis. “He did not put forward any argument, either before the domestic authorities or the Court, as to why receiving a copy of the decision was instrumental for the exercise of his freedom of expression”, the court said.

It mentioned that Mr. Sioutis had the possibility to consult the text of the decision at the domestic court, that the decision was adopted following a public hearing, that it was publicly pronounced, that it was accessible at the registry of the court, and that Mr.Sioutis was not in any way personally concerned to the actual litigation case.

According to the ECtHR, the request for information did not meet the public interest for disclosure since the court decision did not deal with a topic of relevance to the whole of society. The ECtHR said the document referred to a “private party litigation”.

“While admittedly both parties involved (the businessman and the politician) in the proceedings were publicly known […], that element is not sufficient to enable the Court to conclude that the nature of the information sought met the necessary public interest test in order to prompt a need for disclosure under the Convention”, the court decided.

The ECtHR also said that the copy was not needed in this case for purposes of journalism or watchdog work in the function of public debate. “The purpose of the applicant’s activities cannot therefore be said to have been an essential element of informed public debate”, the court decided. “Article 10 did not, in the circumstances of the case, give the applicant the right to obtain a copy of the requested decision, nor did it embody an obligation on the Government to impart such information to the applicant”.

Editor’s note: Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the right to freedom of expression and information.

Case of Sioutis v. Greece, application no. 16393/14. 29 August 2017

 





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