The case concerned a dispute between Mr Housieaux and the Board of Delegates of the Council of the Brussels Capital Region over information which Mr Housieaux sought to have released relating to an urban development contract.

A request was made for a preliminary ruling concerning the interpretation of Articles 3(4) and 4 of Directive 90/313/EEC on the freedom of access to information on the environment.

The Directive was transposed into Belgium law by the national Order of 29 August 2001, which included at Article 14, a provision to the effect that where a document was requested, refusal to provide the document had to be notified within 2 months of the request.

Any failure to reply within that period would be deemed to constitute a decision to refuse access. The Belgium Board of Delegates only notified their refusal to release the information over a year after Mr Housieaux had submitted his request. When Mr Housieaux sought to appeal this, it was argued by the Belgium authorities that the 60 day period in which he could lodge an appeal had therefore expired as this ran from the date of the implied refusal.

The court held that the two-month time limit laid down in Article 3(4) of the Directive was a mandatory time limit, and further that the decision against which an appeal can be made is the implied refusal which arises from a failure by the public authority to give a decision regarding the request for information within two months.

However, while Article 3(4) does not preclude the scenario as in this case where failure by a public authority to respond within two months is an implied refusal which may be the subject of a judicial or administrative review, by virtue or Article 3(4) it is unlawful for such a decision not to be accompanied by reasons when the two-month time-limit expires. The court held that in such circumstances the implied refusal must be regarded as unlawful.

For Link see: C-186/04

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