Spain, Galicia High Court of Justice, 23 May 2022, Judgement 198/2022
Deciding body (English)
Deciding body (Original)
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Type of Court (territorial scope)
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Link to the full text of the decision
Several private nursing homes appealed the decision of the regional government which granted access to information about infections and deaths from Covid-19, or other symptoms compatible with it, among the residents of private care homes in Galicia. They argued this infringed upon their rights to data protection, honor, privacy, and self-image. The Court rejected this claim, considering there was a general societal interest in knowing that information with regard to Covid-19 crisis management.
Facts of the case
The Social Policy Department of the Galician Government, based on transparency laws, adopted a decision granting access to information about the number of infections and deaths from Covid-19, or other symptoms compatible with it, among the residents of private care homes in the region between March 1 and April 30, 2020. Five private nursing homes appealed the decision before the Galicia High Court of Justice.
Type of measure challenged
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Individual / collective enforcement
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Reasoning of the deciding body
The Court recalled the public nature of the information regarding the number of infections and deaths from Covid-19, or other symptoms compatible with it, among the residents of private care homes. First, it considered that the right to access to information was not just an autonomous right (Art. 105 b SC) but also an instrument at the service of the fundamental right to information (Art. 20.1 d SC). As this right was basically exercised by journalists, their access to information was crucial for the creation of a free public opinion within a democratic society. Thus, journalists did not have ‘more’ right than others to access this kind of information but their right, not just a right in and of itself, but a means inservice of a fundamental right (the right to information), enjoyed further protection. Second, the Court discarded the violation of the right to data protection since the (numerical) information provided did not permit anybody to be identified concretely. For that reason, the rights to honor, privacy, and self-image of the people concerned were not infringed upon. Third, the Court also rejected the alleged violation of the right to honor of the private nursing homes. The Court explained that since the information concerned was provided by public nursing homes, requiring private ones to provide it constituted equal treatment. Otherwise, it would be an opaque action. In addition, since the claimants argued that providing such information could create a negative opinion about their management, the Court explained that this was an unjustified suspicion. Moreover, it recalled that enterprises can make that information public voluntarily with appropriate explanations. Lastly, the claimants argued that the right to access information could be limited when financial interests could be affected. The Court found that no proof was provided that would link the publication of the aforementioned data with the economic well-being of the enterprises. In any case, the public interest in providing that information prevails over private interest (financial reasons) as there is a higher public interest in being informed about the crisis management even in private care homes. The private interests of the latter - which was not founded - cannot be opposed to the right of the people to have information about infections and diseases in nursing homes, data which was, itself, devoid of any negative connotations.
Conclusions of the deciding body
The Court determined that granting information access about the number of infections and deaths from Covid-19, or other symptoms compatible with it, among the residents of private care homes of the region between March 1 and April 30, 2020 did not infringe upon the right to data protection, to honor, privacy, or self-image.
Fundamental Right(s) involved
- Freedom of information
- Right to data protection
- Right to privacy
Fundamental Right(s) instruments (constitutional provisions, international conventions and treaties)
- Freedom of information, Art. 20.1 d), Spanish Constitution
- Right to honor, privacy, self-image, data protection, Art. 18, Spanish Constitution
Rights and freedoms specifically identified as (possibly) conflicting with the right to health
- Health v. freedom of expression / right to information
- Health v. data protection
- Health v. private life
General principle applied
- Rule of law
Balancing techniques and principles (proportionality, reasonableness, others)
The Court applied the proportionality principle to assess whether the right to information access can be limited. The law sets out that the limit to that right should be justified and proportionate, also taking into account whether there are any public or private higher interests that justify access to the information.
ECHR Case Magyar Tartalomszolgáltatók Egyesülete e Index.hu Zrt v. Hungría, No. 22947/13, 2 February 2016