Council for cultural co-operation (CDCC)
CM(2000)93 Addendum II
26 June 2000
717 Meeting, 13 July 2000
7 Education, culture
7.1 Council for cultural co-operation (CDCC)
Draft Recommendation No. R(2000)... of the Committee of
Ministers to member states on a European policy on access to archives
Draft Recommendation No. R(2000)
of the Committee of Ministers to member States
on a European policy on access to archives
The Committee of Ministers, under the terms of article 15.b of
the Statute of the Council of Europe,
Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is to establish
closer union between its members and that this aim can be pursued by common action in the
In view of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and
Fundamental Freedoms, in particular Articles 8 and 10, and of the Convention for the
Protection of Individuals with regard to the Automatic Processing of Personal Data (ETS
In view of Recommendation (81) 19 of the Committee of Ministers to
member states on access to information held by public authorities and Recommendation
(91)10 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the communication to third
parties of personal data held by public bodies;
Considering that archives constitute an essential and irreplaceable
element of culture;
Considering that they ensure the survival of human memory;
Taking account of the increasing interest of the public for history,
the institutional reforms currently under way in the new democracies and the exceptional
scale of changes which are taking place in the creation of documents;
Considering that a country does not become fully democratic until each
one of its inhabitants has the possibility of knowing in an objective manner the elements
of their history;
Taking account of the complexity of problems concerning access to
archives at both national and international level due to the variety of constitutional and
legal frameworks, of conflicting requirements of transparency and secrecy, of protection
of privacy and access to historical information, all of which are perceived differently by
public opinion in each country;
Recognising the wish of historians to study and civil society to better
understand the complexity of the historical process in general, and of that of the
twentieth century in particular;
Conscious that a better understanding of recent European history could
contribute to the prevention of conflicts;
Considering that in view of the complexity of the issues connected with
the opening of archives, the adoption of a European policy on access to archives is called
for, based upon common principles consistent with democratic values,
Recommends that the governments of member states take all necessary
measures and steps to:
i. adopt legislation on access to archives inspired by the principles
outlined in this recommendation, or to bring existing legislation into line with the same
ii. disseminate the recommendation as widely as possible to all the
bodies and persons concerned.
Appendix to Recommendation No. R(2000)
1. For the purposes of the present recommendation:
a. the word "archives" has the following meanings:
i. when it is written with a lower case "a": the totality of
the documents regardless of date, form or medium, produced or received by any individual
or corporate body during the course of their business and transmitted to the Archives for
permanent preservation; unless otherwise stated, the present recommendation is only
concerned with "public archives", that is, those produced by official
ii. when it is written with an upper case "A": the public
institutions charged with the preservation of archives;
b. the word "access" has the following meanings:
i. the function attributed to Archives to make available to users the
holdings they have in their custody;
ii. the fulfilment of this function;
c. "access to archives" means the possibility of consulting archival
documents in conformity with national law. This notion of access does not cover the
exploitation of documents leading to derived products which shall be subject to specific
d. "user" means any person who consults the archives, with the exception
of the staff working in the Archives;
e. "protected personal data" means any information
relating to an identified or identifiable individual (data subject) which the law,
regulatory texts or courts consider cannot be the subject of communication to the public
without risking injury to the interests of that person.
II. Legislative and regulatory texts
2. In European countries, the responsibility for setting out the
general principles which govern access to archives lies with the legislature and,
therefore, shall be governed by an act of parliament. Practical arrangements will be
divided between acts and regulations, according to the laws of each country.
3. Acts and regulations concerning access to public archives should be
co-ordinated and harmonised with the laws concerning related areas, in particular with
that on access to information held by public authorities and that on protection of data.
4. The criteria for access to public archives, defined in law, should
apply to all archives throughout the entire national territory, regardless of the Archives
responsible for their preservation.
III. Arrangements for access to public archives
5. Access to public archives is a right. In a political system which
respects democratic values, this right should apply to all users regardless of their
nationality, status or function.
Access to archives is part of the function of public archive services,
for which, as such, fees should not be charged.
7. The legislation should provide for:
a. either the opening of public archives without particular
b. a general closure period.
7.1. Exceptions to this general rule necessary in a democratic society
can, if the case arises, be provided to ensure the protection of:
a. significant public interests worthy of protection (such as national defence,
foreign policy and public order);
b. private individuals against the release of information
concerning their private lives.
7.2. All exceptions to the general closure period, whether relating to
the reduction or to the extension of this period, should have a legal basis.
Responsibility for any closure or disclosure lies with the agency which created the
documents or with its supervisory administration, unless national legislation
assigns this responsibility to a particular Archive. Any closure beyond the usual period
should be for a pre-determined period, at the end of which the record in question will be
8. Finding aids should cover the totality of the archives and make
reference, should the case arise, to those which might have been withheld from the
description. Even when finding aids reveal the existence of closed documents, and as long
as they do not themselves contain information protected by virtue of legislation, they
shall be readily accessible so that users may request special permission for access.
9. The applicable rules should allow for the possibility of seeking
special permission from the competent authority for access to documents that are not
openly available. Special permission for access should be granted under the same
conditions to all users who request it.
10. If the requested archive is not openly accessible for the reasons
set out in article 7.1, special permission may be given for access to extracts or with
partial blanking. The user shall be informed that only partial access has been granted.
11. Any refusal of access or of special permission for access shall be
communicated in writing, and the person making the request shall have the opportunity to
appeal against a negative decision, and in the last resort to a court of law.
IV. Access to private archives
12. Wherever possible, mutatis mutandis, attempts should be made
to bring arrangements for access to private archives in line with those for public
Draft explanatory memorandum
to Recommendation no. R(2000)
of the Committee of Ministers to member States
on a European policy on access to archives
Archives form an essential and irreplaceable part of the cultural
heritage. They preserve the memory of nations and the survival of human memory in large
part depends on them.
This idea is particularly important in Europe for a number of reasons:
i. the increasing interest of the public in history and in seeking
historical documents, as shown by the growing frequentation of archives and the rapid
growth of research undertaken in the most recent periods of history;
ii. the institutional and economic reforms taking place in the new
democracies, which call to mind the importance of archives in the process of the
democratisation of a State;
iii. the exceptional scope of the changes which are taking place
everywhere in the creation of records, as a result of the growing complexity of the areas
subject to intervention by public authorities, on the one hand, and of the developments in
technology on the other hand.
Since it is generally accepted that no country belongs fully to the
democratic world as long as all its inhabitants do not have the possibility of being
acquainted, in an objective manner, with the elements of its history, it is essential that
this principle be applied, through European co-operation, at the international level with
a view to creating a stronger awareness of the common heritage constituted by the archives
of the countries of Europe.
In view of this, the Council of Europe concluded that the time has come
to examine the field of archives and, in particular, the basic issue of access to them and
then to draft a set of principles with a view to harmonising the relevant national
legislation of the member States.
Studies carried out in 1995 to 1996 by teams of expert archivists,
historians and lawyers highlighted the complexity of the issue. At the national level, it
derives from the multiplicity of entangled rules governing access contained in various
regulatory texts and from the conflicting requirements of transparency and secrecy. At the
international level it is a result of the variety of constitutional and legal frameworks.
Another conclusion of the studies was that the problem of access to archives is an
inherent part everywhere of the general cultural context, and that public opinion
perceives it in its own way in each country.
If the complex nature of the problem makes any attempt at uniformity of
legislation and rules illusory, it brings out strikingly the immense need for a joint
effort to formulate a set of principles, in order to inspire a policy of the member States
with respect to access to archives. Such principles shall accord with democratic values
and be compatible with constitutional arrangements of each State.
This Recommendation adheres to the same principles as the international
conventions promoted by the Council of Europe in related fields, and in particular:
- the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights
and Fundamental Freedoms of 4 November 1950 as amended by Protocol N° 11 and takes into
account Article 8 concerning the right to respect for private and family life and Article
10 concerning the right to freedom of expression;
- the Convention for the Protection of Individuals
with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (ETS N°108);
- Recommendation (81) 19 of the Committee of
Ministers to member States on the access to information held by public authorities;
- Recommendation (91) 10 of the Committee of
Ministers to member States on the communication to third parties of personal data held by
The current Recommendation underlines the necessity of:
- ensuring coherence, at the different levels in
the hierarchy of legal norms, between rules relating to access to archives and all other
measures relating to matters concerning access to information;
- being strongly based upon the principle of
proportionality and balance, in order to respect the different interests involved in the
matter of access;
- building in procedural guarantees sufficient to
safeguard the interests of all individuals and corporate bodies concerned.
The Recommendation therefore bears on the principles and procedures
directly connected with access to archives.
The following issues are excluded: the analysis of related questions,
such as the right of individuals to request the correction of official records and the
commercial by-effects resulting from the possible publication of archives; other questions
of a technical nature, such as the types of finding aids most suited to facilitating the
work of users; the management of microfilming and digitalisation programmes; the specific
features of the processing and use of electronic archives and, of course, restrictions to
access based upon the physical condition of the documents.
It should nevertheless be recalled that however liberal the access
rules prescribed in legislation may be, the actual access to archives depends primarily on
the facilities and on the human and financial resources which an archives service
possesses for the preservation and the processing of its holdings. Uncontrolled
destruction of archives, impossibility of proceeding to their arrangement, absence of
buildings permitting their physical maintenance in proper conditions, constitute common
impediments to access by the public to the records that may be of interest to them. If the
State budget does not provide for the operation of archive services, the law will be
ineffective, since it will not be possible to apply the measures concerning access to
COMMENTARY ON THE PROVISIONS OF THE RECOMMENDATION
The definitions proposed in this Recommendation are based on the
numerous works of terminology undertaken by archivists at international and national
levels, and in particular on the dictionary of archival terminology of the International
Council on Archives.
In the generally accepted professional terminology, the word
"archives" written with a lower case "a" covers the documents still in
use or retained in the creating agency, those stored in intermediate centres, as well as
those transferred to Archives. In view of the objective of the present Recommendation, the
definition proposed in Article 1, paragraph a(i), is limited to the holdings placed under
the responsibility of Archives.
II. Legislative and regulatory texts
The purpose of this article is to recall that in view of their
paramount importance, the general principles concerning access to archives should be
embodied in a statutory text; on the other hand, practical arrangements for implementation
may be specified in regulatory texts.
This Recommendation deals only with the general principles which
concern access to archives.
The purpose of this article is to emphasise that the drawing up of
legislative and regulatory texts concerning access to archives should not be undertaken
without taking into account:
a. on the one hand, the constitutional provisions specific to each
country, that is to say, according to circumstances, its written constitution or its
unwritten constitutional principles;
b. on the other hand, the legal texts which cover a number of areas
related to rules governing the access to archives; in particular:
i. texts on access to official records based upon the principle of
immediate access to information by the public; in view of legislation on administrative
transparency, records which may be consulted in the creating agency should remain
accessible after their transfer to Archives;
ii. the draft Recommendation undertaken by the Council of Europe Group
of Specialists on Access to Official Information (DH-S-AC);
iii. texts relating to the use of computer files containing personal
information which aim to protect the personal privacy of individual citizens, whilst
avoiding the risk of loss of collective memory which the destruction of these files at the
end of their period of administrative use would involve. In this connection the Convention
for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data
(ETS N°108) and Directive No. 95/46/CE, Article 6.e of the European Parliament and of the
Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals in relation to the processing
and free circulation of personal data are recommended for guidance;
iv. legal texts defining the different levels of data protection in
such specific areas as health, taxation, public security or national defence;
v. legal texts concerning the protection of personal privacy; these
have a particular importance for Archives since they define categories of protected
information, the period of protection for each category and the categories of persons who
can benefit from such protection. It goes without saying that public officials should not
prevent access to public records produced in the course of their own administrative duties
by claiming respect of their own privacy;
vi. instruments concerning the protection of intellectual property,
which may affect access to, and use of, public archives, including audio-visual and
electronic records, if it applies, in accordance with Directive 96/9/EC of the European
Parliament and Council (11 March 1996) on the legal protection of databases.
The purpose of the current article is to underline the fact that public
liberties and the principle of equality of citizens require identical application of rules
for access to public archives across the country and regardless of the constitutional
arrangements for the state and the extent of the competence of the central government.
This requirement, although it is in conformity with the operation of
democratic institutions, may be in contradiction to constitutional provisions determining
the rights and prerogatives of constituent states in a federal system or other types of
For this reason it is recommended that those European states concerned
should reconcile these two contradictory democratic imperatives according to the
possibilities offered by their constitutional laws.
III. Arrangements for access to public archives
The purpose of the current article is to avoid any measure which would
permit preference to any category of users on the basis of their nationality, level of
education, the nature of their research or any other criterion whatsoever. The law should
not make any distinction between categories of users.
The current article underlines the fact that the freedom of access
without charge to the consultation of records and to finding aids constitutes a basic
principle underlying any policy in favour of access to archives.
The charging of fees and taxes may nevertheless be authorised on
chargeable value adding services, such as the issue of copies or the use of particular
technical equipment. Archives services may in the same way share in the profits from the
publication or exploitation of the records for the custody of which they are responsible.
In certain countries, public archives are accessible without particular
restriction except where the right to access is limited by the need to maintain
confidentiality concerning aspects of national defence, foreign policy, public order or
the privacy of individuals. No general closure period is applicable.
When this is not the case, in order to balance the right to historical
knowledge and the protection of the interests of the State and of the privacy of
individuals, a range of appropriate access deadlines can be noted. They are as follows:
a. a general closure period, which does not usually exceed twenty or
thirty years, and which applies automatically to documents or groups of documents where
making them available for access cannot harm either the interests of the State or of
b. a longer closure period, which normally does not exceed fifty years,
for documents or groups of documents relating to foreign affairs, defence and the
maintenance of public order;
c. a variable closure periods (for example from 10 to 70 years after
the closing of the file, or from 100 to 120 years after the birth of the individual
concerned) for documents or files containing confidential legal, taxation, medical or
other details concerning private persons.
The definition of finding aids includes both those created by the
agencies of origin (for example registers, indexes, files, docket books) as well as
catalogues or repertories produced by archives services. The latter should indicate rules
on access which apply to the documents described.
The competent authority for the granting of special permissions for
access, should be, according to circumstances, the creation agency after consultation with
the Archives service, the administration of the Archives on the advice of the creating
agency, or a single authority responsible for issuing authorisations for the whole
In defining the rules to be followed for granting special permission
for access, the following aspects of the problem should be taken into account:
i. access for research purposes:
Special permission for access may be given according to two different
procedures, ad actum or ad personam. Ad actum means that the documents made
available as a result of special permission are permanently disclosed and become freely
Ad personam means that the documents made available by dispensation
to a specified user retain their closed status, so that every user wishing to consult them
should request special permission. However, in the case of the second procedure, it is
necessary, as is underlined by the Recommendation, that for the same document, special
permissions for access should be granted under the same conditions to all users who
Legislation should provide for both possibilities, that is to say,
disclosure before the access date provided by law and access by special dispensation.
However it is desirable that when dealing with requests for special permission for access,
the Archives administration should be authorised to recommend disclosure of the documents
which are being requested.
ii. Access to documents containing personal data by the individuals
concerned or their authorised representatives:
In this context, Archives administrations should apply the regulations
prescribed by freedom of information and data protection legislation. If such laws do not
exist, rules on special permission for access should be applied.
iii. Responsibility of users under private and criminal law:
If special permission for access is granted, users may be asked to sign
a declaration under which they make an undertaking not to make public any information
likely to bring injury to public or private interests, and that they accept full
responsibility in case of legal proceedings.
It is the responsibility of the courts to decide upon the admissibility
of such declarations in the case of a dispute.
"Access to extracts" refers to the act of extracting from a
file, before access is permitted to a user, of certain documents for which authorisation
for access does not apply. The user does not therefore have access to the complete file,
but only to an extract from it.
Access with partial blanking consists of making available to a user the
totality of the records requested, having blanked out certain information.
Partial access, whether to extracts or with blanking, does not always
permit a complete understanding of the document by the user. It may derogate the integrity
of the file and by the act of extraction, reduces the exactitude of the information
contained in the file. That is why the present recommendation requires that the user be
informed of the partial nature of the access granted.
It is desirable that it should be possible to address the first
recourse against a refusal for special permission for access directly to the supervisory
administration of the agency refusing access, prior to envisaging, if the case arises, an
appeal to the courts.
In some countries, judicial recourse may be preceded by an appeal
before a body set up for this purpose: a collegial commission, or an independent authority
such as the ombudsman or parliamentary commissioner.
As well as its official archives, the archival heritage of a country
includes private archives (business, family, associations, religious, etc.) whose
importance is equally fundamental to the establishment of the memory of the nation.
The activity of the state in relation to private archives should
ordinarily have for its main aim the assurance of their protection and their good physical
preservation. The arrangements for such action will vary according to the customs of each
The intent of the current article is to point out that arrangements for
access to private archives should not be disregarded since this constitutes the ultimate
purpose of their preservation.