Right of access to documents: what does it mean?
With the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam in May 1999, European citizens and any natural or legal person residing or having a registered office in a Member State were granted the right of access to documents produced or held by the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council. The same right, following the same principles, was subsequently granted regarding the founding instruments of EU agencies; as to Eurojust, the right was granted in the Eurojust Decision of 2004. Following the entry into force of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), this right of access to documents extends to documents of all of the Union’s institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.
These principles are:
- General, unconditional right of access for everyone, meaning that applicants do not need to justify their requests.
- Right of access applies to all documents which Eurojust holds relating to policies, activities and decisions falling within the responsibility of Eurojust. Access to these documents can only exceptionally be refused (for more information, see below). Classified documents are subject to special treatment.
- Broad definition of the concept of documents: any medium is included.
- Exceptions may only be made after evaluation on a case-by-case basis.
- Widest possible access to documents. The possibility of partial access is always considered.
How to obtain access to documents ?
Direct access to documents via the Eurojust Public Register
Eurojust has a Public register that can be used to access documents. In addition, this website contains press releases and documents related to public tenders and recruitment. The Document library section of this website also lists the most important Eurojust documents (legal framework, annual reports, etc) in an accessible format and with translations where available.
Access by individual application
If a Eurojust document has not been published or cannot be downloaded from the Public register, an individual can ask to have access to it. This applies both to documents drawn up by Eurojust and to other documents which Eurojust holds.
Who can apply?
Any citizen of the European Union, and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State can make a request.
How to make an application?
Any application for access to a document must be made in writing. The application must be sent by e-mail, post or fax with sufficient precision so as to enable Eurojust to identify the document. The online contact form may also be used. The application should be addressed to the Head of the Legal Service of Eurojust.
How long will it take?
The procedure can take up to 30 working days from registration of the application. Exceptionally, this deadline can be extended by another 15 days.
When will access be granted, when will it be refused?
The principle is that the widest possible access to all documents held by Eurojust should be granted. However, access will be refused, where disclosure would undermine the protection of the public interest or the privacy and integrity of individuals. The public interest is in particular invoked where the fulfilment of Eurojust’s tasks in reinforcing the fight against serious crime is at stake, or where national investigations and prosecutions in which Eurojust assists could be endangered. Where an exception is justified, it will be examined to see whether it applies to the whole document or whether partial access to a document can be granted.
What if my request to access to documents is (partially) refused?
There is a possibility to make a ‘confirmatory’ application (i.e. a second request) to the Administrative Director of Eurojust. Processing this can also take up to 30 days, and in exceptional cases, up to 45 days.
For further details on the principles, conditions and limitations of right of access, please refer to the Eurojust Decision to Adopt Rules regarding Public Access to Eurojust Documents of 13 July 2004.
Statistics and other information on requests for public access to Eurojust documents are available in Eurojust’s Annual Reports and in the section below.
Starting from 2015, the Eurojust Annual Reports will include a hyperlink to the current webpage containing information on requests for public access to documents, including the number of cases in which Eurojust refused access and the reasons for refusal.
Public access to Eurojust documents – Number of requests 2016
The number of requests for public access to Eurojust documents decreased slightly in 2016, with a total of 15 requests compared to 18 in 2015. In addition, Eurojust received three consultation requests in accordance with Art. 4(4) of Regulation 1049/2001, as a third-party author of the requested document. No confirmatory applications were received in 2016.
Of the 15 requests received, 9 concerned non-case-related documents.
- In one case, the requested document was not held by Eurojust.
- With regard to the remaining 8 requests, access was granted or partially granted (e.g. to a redacted version) in seven instances and access was refused in one instance on the basis of the exceptions in Article 4(1)(a)(5th indent) on the fulfilment of Eurojust’s tasks in reinforcing the fight against serious crime.
Eurojust also received six requests for case-related documents in 2016.
- In 5 cases, access was refused. In one case, the applicant was not eligible. In another two cases, access was refused on the basis of the exceptions in Article 4(1)(a) on the protection of the public interest as regards fulfilment of Eurojust’s tasks in reinforcing the fight against serious crime and as regards national investigations and prosecutions in which Eurojust assists. In another two cases, access was refused on the basis of Article 4(1)(a) first indent as disclosure would have undermined the protection of the public interest as regards public security.
- In one case, access was granted to documents already publicly available in press releases and other documents on the Eurojust website.
In 2016, Eurojust continued to update the Public Register of documents accessible via the Eurojust website. The growing list of documents made directly available to the public via the Public Register is designed to make it easier for citizens to access documents held by Eurojust without the need to make a formal access to documents request, and to further increase transparency and the availability of information about Eurojust’s activities.
For information on requests for public access to Eurojust documents in 2015 please see here.
For information on requests for public access to Eurojust documents prior to 2015 please see the relevant Annual Report.