Access to and consultation of documents attached to third-party applications for authorisation to introduce a new medicine on the market, renew an existing authorisation or change a medicine, by other interested parties
Rights of persons and entities subject to public administration
Right of access to administrative files and records
Right to consult
Right to obtain affidavits
Rights to commercial or industrial secrecy
Industrial property rights
RULING Nº 254/99
4 of May of 1999
The right of an individual with a legitimate personal interest justifying action to gain access to information cannot be of lesser importance than the general right of access to administrative files and records, for the very reason that the public interest as regards transparency of administrative activity depends, in practice, on the acts performed by individual applicants.
All the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution can be limited or impinged upon by other constitutionally protected rights or interests. However, if such restriction does not derive from an interpretation of constitutional provisions on the rights in question, it must always be justified. Generally speaking, where the resolution of a conflict between constitutionally protected rights or interests means preventing the exercise of a right in certain circumstances (whether by formal or implicit prohibition or by referral), all constitutional safeguards against restrictive laws are justified. The present case concerns the constitutional justification for a ban on access to administrative records, which are essential to the operation of judicial protection. Consequently, all constitutional safeguards are justified.
The Court was called on to determine the constitutionality, with respect to the right of access to administrative information, of certain provisions in the code of administrative procedure, the Law on administrative court procedure and the Law on drugs licensing. The provisions under review could serve to block access by persons with a legitimate interest to confidential items in the licensing file of a drug.
The right to information was at issue in respect of the right of a party with a legitimate interest in knowing a document's content to consult it and make a copy. This right was not specifically recognised by the Constitution. However, it was implicitly part of the guarantee, embodied in Articles 268.4 and 268.5 of the Constitution, of effective court protection of citizens' rights, because this protection could very often become ineffective unless the right of a party with a legitimate interest in knowing the content of a file was specifically recognised. It was also implicit in the right of all citizens to gain access to administrative records and files, subject to legal provisions with respect to internal and external security, investigation of crime and personal privacy, enshrined in Article 268.2 of the Constitution. None the less, besides permissible legal exclusions relating to the subject-matter of Article 168.2 of the Constitution, there were other restrictions which must be taken into account.
In any case, in order to make a clear distinction between documents which could be disclosed and those which must remain confidential, it was necessary to carefully weigh the conflict of constitutionally protected rights and interests as well as evidence of the need for refusing access to information and the proportionality of such a refusal. For this reason, the Court ruled that the provisions in question did not violate the Constitution.
Five judges having expressed dissenting opinions, the Court ruling was based on a majority decision.