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Unusual ruling on Open Government Act: court decides what can be disclosed

In a high-profile court case concerning the Dutch Open Government Act ('Wet open overheid', shortened to 'Woo'), a court has decided to review documents relating to the Dutch childcare benefits scandal itself, rather than allowing the government to do this. Professor Wim Voermans and Dr Annemarie Drahmann discuss the case in Dutch daily newspaper 'de Volkskrant'.

On 27 May, the Central Netherlands District Court issued a ruling in a court case on the Open Government Act. The case concerned documents relating to the Dutch childcare benefits scandal. Back in 2021, a citizen asked the government to view these documents under the Open Government Act, but that request was refused. The court disagreed with that decision and criticised the Dutch Ministry of General Affairs and the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations for their reluctance to disclose the documents. The court therefore took the extraordinary step of assessing all of the documents itself and deciding what could be disclosed.

De Volkskrant asked Professor Voermans and Dr Drahmann what they think of the ruling. ‘Dutch case law really has been made with this ruling,’ says Dr Drahmann. ‘I think the court wanted to send a message to Dutch ministries by specifically calling them out on their reluctant attitude in the hope that it will prompt them to change their stance.’ As the ruling is written in a very accessible way, Dr Drahmann will be able to use it in training courses that she occasionally gives to civil servants. ‘To show that you can't just blacklist things.’

‘This is a significant ruling,’ Professor Voermans adds. ‘The court has decided to tackle the pattern, thoroughly substantiating everything in a ruling that refutes the current policy. Over time, a kind of new Rutte doctrine had emerged in which nothing has to be disclosed. The court has put a stop to that.’

Read the article in de Volkskrant (in Dutch, ). 

Image: Unsplash+

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