Minister Hugo de Jonge of Public Health (VWS) must make a decision before November 30 about three Wob requests from Nieuwsuur. If he does not, he must pay a penalty. Which judges the Council of State today in an appeal case brought by the minister.
He did this after Nieuwsuur had previously gone to court to challenge the so-called ‘alternative method’ with Wob requests from the Ministry of Health. The court judged then that this method, in which the minister himself determines which information he discloses at what time, is not possible. The court found that each Wob request must be handled individually. The minister made some adjustments to this, but went into effect at the same time appeal at the Council of State.
He now judges that those changes are enough to stay within the law. The Wob allows such a “phased decision-making”, says the highest administrative court. The Council of State is, however, critical of the minister’s actions because he only made adjustments after the judge’s ruling in the Nieuwsuur case.
From Government Information Act (Wob) stipulates that anyone can request information from the government, such as reports and minutes. Especially journalists use the law. If a government agency receives a Wob request, it must be processed within eight weeks at the latest.
Nieuwsuur made three Wob requests in June 2020 and has now been waiting more than a year for the documents.
The Council of State does understand the minister because of the large number of Wob requests in the middle of the corona crisis. But the minister did not realize the seriousness of the lack of progress in handling the large number of Wob requests until late, says the Council of State.
He has “not taken sufficient account of the fact that the corona pandemic has led to far-reaching measures for citizens and businesses and fierce social discussions. The media must be able to properly fulfill their task as a ‘public watchdog'”. That is why it is important that the minister decides quickly on the Wob requests, according to the Council of State. If not, he must pay a penalty of 100 euros per day, with a maximum of 15,000 euros.
Nieuwsuur editor-in-chief Joost Oranje says he has “mixed feelings” about the ruling: “It is good to see that our going to court has apparently had an effect. Because only because of this, the minister has been forced to adjust the working method and is now given deadlines and a However, it is disappointing that the Council of State avoids the fundamental question about the minister’s working method. openness in times of crisis and for the rule of law. And that is exactly what the highest administrative judge should have been much clearer about in my opinion.”
In a reaction A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport calls it “encouraging” that the modified working method of VWS is not in conflict with the law. “VWS will study the ruling in more detail and will focus on the term set by the Council of State. It is paramount for VWS to be transparent as quickly as possible and as much as possible about the fight against the corona crisis.”