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The right of public access to legal information: A proposal for its universal recognition as a human right

Research output: Scientific - peer-reviewArticle

Abstract: This Article examines the desirability of the universal recognition of the right of public access to legal information as a human right and therefore as part of a legal framework for improving national and global access to legal information. It discusses the right of public access to legal information as a legal right and the importance of its international human rights framework. The Article argues that every person has the right of public access to legal information, which casts a legal and moral duty on every government and every intergovernmental organization (IGO) with judicial and legislative functions to provide adequate and free access to its laws and law-related publications. It argues further that every government can afford the provision of adequate public access to its legal information and that the lack of political will to do so is the preeminent factor responsible for inadequate—and in some cases extremely poor—public access. Additionally, this Article advocates the universal recognition of the right of public access to legal information as a human right and makes a proposal for a UN Convention on the Right of Public Access to Legal Information. It provides the essential contents of the proposed UN Convention which incorporate The Hague Conference Guiding Principles to be Considered in Developing a Future Instrument. These contents provide valuable input for urgent interim national and regional laws and policies on public access to legal information, pending the Convention’s entry into force. The proposed UN Convention will significantly enhance global access to official legal information that will promote widespread knowledge of the law. It will also facilitate national and transnational legal research and remedy the chronic injustice from liability under inaccessible laws under the doctrine of “ignorance of the law is no excuse”—which is similar to liability under ex post facto and nonexistent laws—and promote the proposed doctrine of “ignorance of inaccessible law is an excuse.”

Keywords: Human right of public access to legal information; Public access to law as a human right; United Nations Convention on the Right of Public Access to Legal Information; Ignorance of inaccessible law is an excuse; Huricompatisation: human rights-compliant public access to the customary law of indigenous communities; Ignorance of the law is no excuse; Public access to legislation; Public access to judicial decisions; Public Access to administrative memoranda; Public access to government legal documents;Public access to regional and international legal instruments; Free access to law; Free access to law movement; Legal information institutes

Leesi Ebenezer Mitee, HND Town Planning and LLB (Rivers State University, Nigeria); BL (Nigerian Law School, Lagos); LLM (University of Huddersfield, United Kingdom); PhD Candidate, Tilburg University Law School, The Netherlands; Chief Lecturer in Law, Institute of Legal and Global Studies, Port Harcourt Polytechnic, Rivers State, Nigeria; former legal research consultant to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 1998, on a project that provided the juridical foundations for the ECOWAS Declaration of a Moratorium on Importation, Exportation and Manufacture of Light Weapons in West Africa (31 October 1998) which culminated in the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and other Related Matters 2006. I thank, immensely, the following persons for their most valuable insightful comments on the draft of this Article: Prof. Dr. Ernst M. H. Hirsch Ballin, Tilburg University and University of Amsterdam / Asser Institute, The Netherlands; and Dr. Sofia Ranchordás, Assistant Professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law at Leiden Law School, The Netherlands, and Affiliated Fellow of the Yale Information Society Project, United States. Any error is mine. Email: leesimitee@leesimitee.com; The Right of Public Access to Legal Information Website: http://accesstolegalinformation.com/

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1429-1496
Number of pages68
JournalGerman Law Journal
Volume18
Issue number6
StatePublished - 12 Nov 2017

    Research areas

  • Human right of Public access to legal information, United Nations Convention on the Right of Public Access to Legal Information, Ignorance of inaccessible law is an excuse, Huricompatisation: human rights-compliant public access to the customary law of indigenous communities, Public access to legislation, Public access to judicial decisions, Public access to the customary law of indigenous communities, Public access to administrative memoranda, Public access to government legal documents, Public access to regional and international legal instruments, Free access to law, Free access to law movement, Legal information institutes, Ignorance of the law is no excuse, Public access to law as a human right
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