Freedom of information law to be evaluated after three years

Government bows to increasing public pressure over new freedom of information law that is feared will decrease Denmark’s democratic transparency

May 1st, 2013 9:39 am| by admin
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The new freedom of information actoffentlighedslov, which outlines which government documents the public can access, will be evaluated and debated in parliament three years after it takes effect, the government announced yesterday.

The announcement follows growing public opposition to the new law – which hasn't been passed in parliament yet but has been agreed upon between the government and opposition parties Venstre and Konservative – due to the inclusion of two clauses in particular.

Clause 24 will restrict the public’s right to access documents exchanged at a time when ministers are drafting ideas with representatives from the civil service, while clause 27 will restricts access to documents (aktindsigt) compiled and exchanged between ministers and MPs in connection with laws or other corresponding political processes.

Opponents of the law fear that these two clauses will allow the government to hide documentation that exposes irregularities and abuses of power.

The justice minister, Morten Bødskov (Socialdemokraterne), argues however that the clauses are designed to be used only in rare circumstances.

“What’s important is that [the two clauses] are not abused,” Bødskov wrote in a press release. “They both need to be used in very limited circumstances. That’s why I’m pleased that we’ve agreed to involve the parliamentary ombudsman in the evaluation of theimplementation of these two rules. I think the evaluation will ensure that parliament and the public will be able to make sure [the rules] are not used as an excuse to create secrecy, as critics of the law have argued.”

Almost 70,000 people have signed a petition calling for the government to withdraw the law, and last week nine editors of major news publications wrote an open letter to the government explaining why they felt the law would limit democratic transparency.

The new evaluation deal, struck between the same parties who support the offentlighedslov, will require the  parliamentary ombudsman to assess how the law has been implemented after three years.

The Justice Ministry will use this report to start a consultation process to evaluate whether the law needs changing, followed by a parliamentary debate.

MP Pernille Skipper from Enhedslisten, one of only three parties to oppose the law, argues that yesterday's announcement reveals a level of guilt on the part of the government, which otherwise has refused to acknowledge that the new law could cause problems.

"If Morten Bødskov has now discovered, like the rest of us, that the proposed freedom of information act is problematic, then he ought to be a man and remove the offending clauses," Skipper told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

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