Ministry’s appeal against WOB ruling: 'Sabotaging the law'
The Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport is to appeal against a recent court ruling on the Public Access to Government Information Act (Wet openbaarheid van bestuur, WOB). The court ruled that the way in which the Ministry handles WOB requests was not in accordance with the law.
Requests made under the WOB Act, must be considered on an individual basis, the court ruled at the end of June. Thus, the court rejected the argument that the ministry was using different procedures due to the coronavirus crisis. Subject to a penalty payment, the ministry must swiftly (within a few months) respond to the WOB requests.
In a letter to the Lower House, however, outgoing Minister De Jonge said that the court’s ruling was ‘not feasible’. The Ministry was also not planning on making fundamental changes to its working procedures. The Ministry will appeal the case, and therefore De Jonge is acting
contrary to a majority in parliament who had previously decided that he must respect the court ruling.
Professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law, Wim Voermans, commented on the situation in Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, saying this was a ‘remarkable’ step taken by the Ministry. 'What the Minister is actually saying about the ruling is: we’re not going to do this.’ Voermans believes this to be typical of the government digging its heels in relation to the WOB. ‘But it’s not a service – it’s a civil right.'
In his letter, De Jonge claims that the Ministry’s current workload of more than 200 WOB requests is too great. Five million documents have been collected, of which two million remain after ‘sifting’.
There are now thirty lawyers working on the WOB requests. In the near future another fifty extra lawyers will be hired to work on the task. At a briefing, one top civil servant said that the aim was ultimately to ‘bombard’ the journalists who had submitted a WOB request with information. It will be announced in September when this will happen exactly. Voermans believes that because of the appeal, the issue can drag on for years. ‘I call it sabotaging the law’.