On July 1st, the Court of Justice for the European Communities issued a judgment on access to legal opinions that offers good news. (Judgment of the Court of Justice in two joined cases C-39/05 P & C-52/05 P, Sweden and Turco v Council and Others, July 1, 2008):
The headline on the court’s press release reads: THE COURT AUTHORISES, IN PRINCIPLE, ACCESS TO LEGAL ADVICE GIVEN TO THE COUNCIL ON LEGISLATIVE QUESTIONS [bold text appeared in release]. The press release of the Court also states:
The Court takes the view that disclosure of documents containing the advice of an institution’s legal service on legal questions arising when legislative initiatives are being debated increases transparency and strengthens the democratic right of European citizens to scrutinize the information which has formed the basis of a legislative act.
The Court concludes that Regulation No 1049/2001 imposes, in principle, an obligation to disclose the opinions of the Council’s legal service relating to a legislative process. There are, however, exceptions to that principle as regards opinions given in the context of a legislative process, but being of a particularly sensitive nature or having a wide scope that goes beyond the context of the legislative process. In such a case, it is incumbent on the institution concerned to give a detailed statement of reasons for such a refusal.
For excellent analysis and updates on this topic, check out the Statewatch Observatory on Access to EU Documents.