4. The principle of public participation and access to information and justice

If policy makers make important decisions without talking – and listening – to those who will be affected, they can ignore any harm they may be causing. If governments and businesses don’t have to provide information about their actions, then who will hold them accountable? And if their decisions can never be challenged in the courts, discriminatory laws may prevail and abuses of power can proliferate. This is why Future Justice requires governments, businesses and citizens to listen and engage with each other, whether at the local, national or global level. To allow this to happen, law and policy-makers must ensure that individuals have:

  • access to appropriate, comprehensible and timely information held by public authorities,
  • the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes, and
  • effective remedies when these rights, and their other human rights, are violated.


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Best laws and policies shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making relevant information available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall also be provided, in a way that respects privacy, confidential business information and does not impose undue financial burdens. This principle is founded upon universal rights related to expression and association. There are three main elements. First, a best law or policy will respect that people should be able to participate in decision-making processes which affect and impact their lives and well-being. Second, in order to participate fully, the best law or policy will ensure that the public has access to adequate information. And third, the law or policy will ensure that citizens can have access to independent review if their concerns are not addressed.

Download CISDL draft legal working paper on this principle

Download CISDL legal working paper on the 7 Future Justice principles

Examples

This principle is already widely recognized in international law or practice. For example:

Aarhus Convention

“In order to contribute to the protection of the right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being, each Party shall guarantee the rights of access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.”

Article 1, Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, 1998

Rio Declaration

“Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.”

Principle 10, the Rio Declaration, 1992

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

“A State Party to the Covenant that becomes a Party to the present Protocol recognizes the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications from individuals subject to its jurisdiction who claim to be victims of a violation by that State Party of any of the rights set forth in the Covenant. No communication shall be received by the Committee if it concerns a State Party to the Covenant which is not a Party to the present Protocol.”

Article 1, First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966

American Convention on Human Rights

“Any person or group of persons, or any nongovernmental entity legally recognized in one or more member states of the Organization, may lodge petitions with the Commission containing denunciations or complaints of violation of this Convention by a State Party.”

Article 44, American Convention on Human Rights, 1969

European Convention on Human Rights

“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity….

The Court may receive applications from any person, non-governmental organisation or group of individuals claiming to be the victim of a violation by one of the High Contracting Parties of the rights set forth in the Convention or the protocols thereto. The High Contracting Parties undertake not to hinder in any way the effective exercise of this right.”

Articles 13 and 34, Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, 1950

Questions and resources

The 3 questions below can be used to focus upon this principle, and to test the action of any law or policy:

4.1 Does the law/policy provide for public consultation and genuine engagement, in both its design and implementation?

4.2 Does it specifically provide for transparency and access to information for concerned
citizens, local communities, and others who might be affected?

4.3 Does it provide avenues for appeal and redress for citizens, communities and others?


The links below have been selected because we think they contain information which may help policy-makers develop laws and policies in the context of this principle and these questions: 

  • The UN ECE has produced an Implementation Guide to the Aarhus Convention and Guidelines on Promoting the Application of the Principles of the Aarhus Convention in International Forums 
  •  An online tool has been developed which provides over 100 indicators which can be used to assess whether a particular policy is addressing these questions adequately.


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The Access Initiative (TAI) is a global coalition of civil society groups working on these questions in the context of the environment, with its Secretariat at the World Resources Institute in Washington DC. TAI’s research tool enables visitors to test a particular policy (or country) against indicators, covering the three questions as well as capacity building. Assessments have also been done, and can be accessed, for over two dozen countries.

You can access the indicators by signing in with the username ‘guest(at)tai.org’, and with the password ‘guest’, here.