On May 20, 2020, at its regular sitting, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine ratified the international Convention on Access to Official Documents. 305 MPs voted for this decision.
This step was expected from Ukraine not only by the experts on access to public information, but also by the entire international community. This is the tenth ratification of this international instrument, after which the Convention enters into force.
Although the Tromso Convention was signed by 17 countries, it was Ukraine that became the “initiator country” that brought the field of access to public information to the international level. Belgium, Georgia, Iceland, Northern Macedonia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia and Ukraine competed for this title. Until now, the scope of access to public information has been regulated in each state only at the national level.
The Centre for Democracy and Rule of Law has been actively supporting and advocating for the Convention ratification since 2016. We have repeatedly drawn public attention to the necessity of ratification, cooperated with public authorities and other stakeholders, encouraging them to take active steps in the process of ratification
History of ratification
Ukraine signed the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents (also known as the Tromso Convention) in April 2018. This is the first international document of this level in which states not only recognize the right to access information, but also agree to ensure such a right and cooperate in the field of access. In the same year, Ukraine tried to ratify the document, but the parliament lacked the votes and understanding of the importance of this ratification.
Since autumn 2019, the draft law on this international document ratification has been quickly approved by all the authorities involved in the process at the initiative of the Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy and with the assistance of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Council for Freedom of Speech and Protection of Journalists under the President of Ukraine. On January 31, 2020, the President of Ukraine submitted the draft law to the Parliament for ratification. The draft law on ratification of this international document was also approved by the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Ukraine’s Integration with the European Union, which is the main one, and was put to a vote in the session hall.
The next step is the signing of the ratification law by the President and its official promulgation. The Convention itself enters into force on the first day of the month following the expiration of a period of three months after the date of ratification by Ukraine.
“Ratification of the Tromso Convention is an opportunity for Ukraine to make a significant contribution to the development of access to information in Europe. Ukraine has something to be proud of and something to share in this area!” said Taras Shevchenko, CEDEM Director.
What will change after the Convention has entered into force?
The main advantage of the Convention is the creation of the world’s first international monitoring system in the field of access to public information. In other words, it will monitor how the signatory countries have effectively implemented the provisions of the Convention (minimum access standards).
To do this, two monitoring bodies will be established:
- Group of Specialists on Access to Official Documents is a body that will include independent and highly qualified specialists in the field of access to official documents. The purpose of this body is to monitor the effectiveness of the application of the Convention provisions by the signatory countries.
To this end, the Group of Specialists may provide its expertise on the implementationof the provisions of the Convention, make suggestions for its improvement, exchange information and report on significant achievements, as well as submit its proposals to the Consultation of the Parties. In addition, the Group of Specialists will report on the adequacy of the legal measures and practices taken by the signatory countries to implement the provisions of the Convention.
- Consultation of the Parties is a body consisting of one representative from each of the signatory countries to the Convention and which will:
- Consider reports, opinions and proposals of the Group of Specialists on Access to Official Documents
- Provide recommendations and suggestions to the Parties
- Make proposals for amendments to the Convention and assess the changes proposed in accordance with Article 19 of the Convention
Ukraine’s representatives will be members of both these international bodies.
If the Convention enters into force, Ukraine will not need to amend the current legislation. The Law of Ukraine “On Access to Public Information” was adopted in 2011 and was developed taking into account the provisions of this Convention.
Background information: June 18, 2009, in the city of Tromsø (Norway), the Council of Europe adopted the Convention on Access to Official Documents (Tromso Convention). This document was the first to bring the topic of access to public information to such a high level. Our country has taken into account the provisions of the Convention when drafting the Law on Access to Public Information, which was once in the top ten laws in the world and is now one of the top ten European laws.
Since then, the Convention has been open for signature by all Council of Europe countries, but has not yet entered into force, requiring 10 countries to ratify the Convention.
The Convention enshrines minimum standards in the field of access to public information:
Countries must guarantee the right of access to official documents to all persons, not just their own citizens;
Submission of requests should be free of charge and without the need to specify the reason for the request;
Response to the requests must be provided within a reasonable and short time;
Any restrictions on access to information must be tested for harm and public interest;
A requester must have available ways to appeal the violation of their right at an independent body and a court.