By Donald C. Rowat
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Extra resources for Administrative Secrecy in Developed Countries
The question of information is a third reason for the principle. It is obvious that free access to official documents facilitates the distribution among the public of information concerning the affairs of the state and of the municipalities. The fourth motive bears close relationship to the third. Thanks to the principle of public access to official documents, the public discussion of the aims and means of governmental activities- a discussion that is of vital importance to a democratic society- can be founded on a more solid basis.
To the average citizen the public service is anonymous, faceless and impervious. He may get so little information about an administrative decision against him that he has no way of knowing whether it was made by unfair procedures or for improper reasons. Such a situation is an undeniable temptation to arbitrary action by government officials. It is partly for this reason that I have been a strong advocate of the Ombudsman plan. 8 One of the great values of an Ombudsman is that, as an official of parliament, he acts as an agent for the citizen in getting at information on a particular case.
The right of every citizen to have access to official documents was laid down in law as early as the latter half of the eighteenth century. The Freedom of the Press Act of I 766 gave citizens the right freely to print publications on their own responsibility. The purpose of this was to guarantee a free interchange of opinions and the enlightenment of the public. In this connection the right to reproduce official documents in print was considered to be of great importance. Access to the documents that were to be reproduced was obviously a prerequisite for the reproduction.
Administrative Secrecy in Developed Countries by Donald C. Rowat