In the dispute over the release of files from former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a journalist suffered a defeat before the Federal Administrative Court. The court in Leipzig ruled on Wednesday that the application she submitted to the Federal Chancellery was too extensive. It also rejected the plaintiff’s request that the office must recover files from the Kohl era that may have been in the possession of the widow Maike Kohl-Richter. Neither the Freedom of Information Act nor the Federal Archives Act give rise to a right to recovery from private third parties.

The plaintiff had requested to be able to inspect files from Kohl’s 16-year chancellorship, which were either stored in the Federal Chancellery or presumably with his widow. The Federal Chancellery released some files, but otherwise rejected the request. The journalist sued, but was unsuccessful in the lower courts.

According to reports, Kohl initially handed over official documents to a foundation during his time as Chancellor. Later, the files ended up at his home. The Federal Chancellery had informed the journalist that it knew nothing of such documents. Lawyer Gernot Schiller said at the hearing: “We asked Ms. Kohl-Richter whether she had any official documents, and she said no.”

Lawyer announces constitutional complaint

According to the Federal Administrative Court, an authority may exceptionally refuse to search for information if a very large number of files would have to be trawled through and a disproportionate administrative effort would arise. That is the case if the authority is prevented from carrying out its normal duties because of the request for information. In addition, there is only a right to inspect files that are actually available from the authorities. The plaintiff could not demand that documents be procured again.

The journalist’s lawyer, Vivian Kube, called the verdict very disappointing. It severely restricts access to information. The fact that there is no right to a replacement is also an incentive for public officials to “make unwanted files disappear”. Kube announced a constitutional complaint in Karlsruhe.