Rules concerning freedom of information

Subject to Article 43 of the Treaty of Co-operation between Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden (the Helsinki Treaty) and pursuant to section 10, point k) of the Rules of Procedure for the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Nordic Committee for Co-operation (NSK) has on 29 February 2016 adopted these rules on public access to information.

Part 1 Introduction

Section 1 Aims

  1. These rules are designed to provide the greatest possible freedom of information and maximise the efficiency of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ document management systems.

Section 2 Areas of application

  1. These rules apply when a member of the public requests access to a document produced by the Nordic Council of Ministers or its secretariat.
  2. In these rules, the term Nordic Council of Ministers (or just Council of Ministers) refers to the ministers for Nordic co-operation, all of the various councils of ministers, the committees of senior officials, boards and working groups, advisory bodies and other similar bodies under the Nordic Council of Ministers.
  3. This freedom of information rules do not apply to Nordic institutions.

 

Part 2 Main provisions

Section 3 Public documents

  1. Any document(s) submitted to or created by the Council of Ministers or the Secretariat is defined as public and must be made available on request, except under the circumstances stipulated in these rules.
  2. The term “document” is used to cover written material, images, audio and visual recordings that can be read, listened to or otherwise played back on technological devices.
  3. A document is considered to have been submitted to the Council of Ministers or the Secretariat when it has arrived at the Secretariat or has been received by an authorised official.
  4. A document is considered to have been created once it has been forwarded to somebody else. A document that has not been forwarded to somebody else is considered to have been created once the business to which it relates is concluded or, for a document that is not related to a specific item of business, once the document has been finalised. A note in a journal or some other ongoing register is considered created as soon as it has been entered. Minutes of meetings and resolutions adopted are considered created as soon as they are approved.
  5. Letters or other correspondence addressed to a specific member of staff in the Council of Ministers or the Secretariat are covered by these rules if they relate to items of business or other matters that come under the remit of the Council of Ministers or the Secretariat.

Section 4 Right of access

  1. Members of the public have the right to access the content of public documents without disclosing their identity or stating the reason for the request.
  2. A request for access must be sufficiently specific for the Secretariat to be able to identify the document(s) to which it refers.

Section 5 Access to documents

  1. Once access to a document has been approved, it must be made available free of charge on request or as soon as possible.
  2. Provided permission is granted, the individual who requests access to a public document also has the right, on payment of a fixed fee, to a hard copy of the document. Digital copies are provided free of charge.
  3. If the information in the document(s) cannot be disclosed in full, due to the exceptions stipulated in these rules, the parts that are not excluded must be made available in a transcript or copy.
  4. The right of access to public documents does not include the right to a translated version of the document.

 

Part 3 Exceptions to freedom of information

Section 6 [1] General exception

1. Access to public documents may be refused if publication of the information in it would have an adverse affect on:

a) the security of any of the five Nordic nation states or the Faroe islands, Greenland or Åland, or on their relations with another state or autonomous territory, or with an international organisation

b) the Nordic Council of Ministers’ relations with a country outside the Nordic Region or with an international or multilateral organisation

c) crime prevention and investigation

d) the economy in general or an individual’s personal or financial affairs

e) national surveillance or intelligence activities

f) the protection of fauna or flora.

2. If, when the document(s) in question were received by the Council of Ministers or the Secretariat, they were accompanied by signed note or memo indicating that the sender was of the opinion that the document(s), due to their content, should be exempt from the rules on freedom of information, the Secretariat must consult the sender before making any further decisions regarding the request for access.

Section 7 Internal working documents

  1. Internal working documents, e.g. preparatory material related to items of business or documents that have not yet been processed, are exempt from these rules.
  2. However, internal working documents may be made public if they contain additional information that is relevant to an item of business.

Section 8 Secretariat service

  1. Documents and information exchanged as part of the Secretariat’s services to the Council of Ministers do not have to be made public.

Section 9 Applications for project funding

  1. With regard to applications for project funding from the Council of Ministers, only a list of applications is made public.

Section 10 Job applications

  1. With regard to job applications, only information about the applicant’s name, gender and nationality is made public – and only if the applicant has not explicitly requested that their application be treated confidentially.

 

Part 4 The right of other parties to access

Section 11 The right of other parties to access

  1. Unless covered by the exceptions stipulated in Section 12 below, any applicant, complainant or other party to a decision made by Council of Ministers or the Secretariat about an individual, public body or business must be granted access to documents and information pertaining to their case that has affected, or could have affected, the way in which it was processed.

Section 12 Exceptions from the right of other parties to access

  1. The right of other parties to access covers internal working material, including parts of the material that add factual information to an item of business.
  2. With regard to job applications, this right is restricted to factual information directly related to the party that requests the access.
  3. This right does not extend to documents and information exchanged as part of the services provided to the Council of Ministers by the Secretariat.
  4. Documents or information may not be disclosed to one of the parties to an item of business if, due to general or personal circumstances, there are good reasons for non-disclosure.

 

Part 5 Document management

Section 13 Registration of documents, etc.

1. When a document has been submitted to or created by the Council of Ministers or the Secretariat, it must be registered without delay, unless it is obvious that the document is of little significance to the Council of Ministers’ activities.

2. The entry must include:

a) the date that the document was received or created

b) the journal number or other identifying feature

c) where appropriate, who sent the document and to whom it has been forwarded

d) a brief summary of the document.

If necessary, information regarding c) and d) may be excluded before the entry is made public.

3. The register must be available to the general public.

4. The Secretariat must archive documents safely, securely and in a manner that facilitates access.

Section 14 Duty of documentation

Information received by the Council of Ministers or the Secretariat in a form other than a document, and which has or could have affected the outcome of an item of business in which the Council of Ministers or the Secretariat takes decisions relating to an individual, public body or company, must be registered in accordance with the provisions in Section 13.

 

Part 6 Provisions concerning the process

Section 15 Granting access to documents

  1. Any request for access to a document must be treated promptly. On receipt of a request, the Secretariat must seek to ascertain, as soon as possible, whether the document should be made accessible.
  2. The Secretariat must make an individual assessment in each case.
  3. The deliberations must also take into account whether it is possible to provide more information than requested, provided doing so does not conflict with these rules on freedom of information.
  4. If the request is refused, the decision must be given in writing, along with the reason(s) for the refusal and information about the appeal process.

Section 16 Appeals

  1. If the Secretariat has rejected a request for access to a document, the party who submitted the request is entitled to appeal the decision to the Nordic Committee for Co-operation (NSK).
  2. Appeals must be submitted to NSK within 21 days of receipt of the rejection.
  3. NSK’s ruling is final and may not be appealed.

Section 17 Date of commencement

  1. These rules entered into force on 29 February 2016. The previous rules on freedom of information are hereby repealed. For documents received or created before 29 February 2016, the previous rules for the registration of documents apply.

 

[1] Amended (new part 3) by order of MR-SAM on 6 September 2010. The amendment is effective as of 1 January 2011. [The amendment refers to Section 10 in the proposal]