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Government considers improved freedom of information

The Swiss government has presented a draft legal proposal which will establish a right to free access to official documents. Many documents are already in practice available to the public at the communal, cantonal and federal level.

The Swiss government has presented a draft legal proposal which will establish a right to free access to official documents. Many documents are already in practice available to the public at the communal, cantonal and federal level.

The draft envisages a right of appeal in cases where access is refused, up to the level of the federal court. The government spokesman, Achille Casanova, said the primary aim of the proposed legislation was to make access to information more transparent, and underline the democratic nature of public institutions. He also said it would foster public confidence in the authorities.

Many official documents are already available on the internet. The draft law establishes a right of access, whereby citizens would simply telephone the authorities and be told where a document can be viewed, printed, or accessed.

The draft national-level law is also motivated by the fact that many of Switzerland's cantons are expected to follow the example of canton Berne, which has had free access to documents for several years.

In addition, the draft sets out cases where access to documents must be denied. This avoids a situation where documents are made confidential without good reason, or where genuinely confidential documents are made accessible.

For example, cabinet minutes will not be available. Switzerland's consensus-based collegial cabinet system means that dissenting views in cabinet meetings are not made public.

The government aims to create a new climate of openness in public administration. Casanova said that between 20 and 50 additional civil servants would be recruited to deal with the new law.


by Peter Haller


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