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Act on the Openness of Government Activities should be reformed

Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen is expediting the reform of the Act on the Openness of Government Activities (AOGA). 

The Parliamentary Ombudsman has assessed the regulation on the publicity of pre-trial investigation documents following a complaint from the association of journalists in which they criticised the National Police Board's Handbook on the AOGA.  

Act on the Openness of Government Activities open to interpretation

According to the complaint, the primary openness of pre-trial documents can only be limited with regard to the protection of private life on the basis of just one subparagraph of the AOGA so that only 'sensitive' information related to a person’s private life is confidential. According to the Handbook, also other confidentiality criteria of the AOGA are applicable, which means that confidentiality will be more extensive.

The Ombudsman notes that there are reasonable grounds for supporting both interpretations. It is the Ombudsman’s understanding that the legislator has not thoroughly considered the relationship between various confidentiality criteria and the issue has remained partly open.

Taking into account the case law of the administrative courts, the Ombudsman cannot criticise the National Police Board for applying in its Handbook the legal praxis of the administrative courts. 

Act on the Openness of Government Activities should be reformed 

The Ombudsman notes that the regulation of the publicity of pre-trial investigation material is a very important issue. It is possible that the interpretational issues of the current AOGA will be clarified with explicit precedents set by the Supreme Administrative Court. However, this will not eliminate the need for the reform of the AOGA.

The Minister of Justice has already announced that she intends to appoint a working group to prepare the reform of the AOGA. The Ombudsman considered this to be well justified and stated that he had already previously proposed the reform of this 20-year-old law. The protection of privacy and, in particular, the nature of publicity have changed fundamentally, and their reconciliation is increasingly difficult. According to the Ombudsman, there is also reason to consider whether the reform of the confidentiality criteria for pre-trial investigation documents should be separately prepared. 

The Parliamentary Ombudsman asked the Ministry of Justice to report on any possible measures related to the matter at latest on 31 January 2021.

Further information on the case is available from Principal Legal Adviser Juha Haapamäki, tel. +358 9 432 3334.