Administrative Court Magdeburg: No Access to Files of Limbach Commission under the Freedom of Information Act

von Peter Bert

In a judgment dated April 21, 2015, the Administrative Court (Verwaltungsgericht) Magdeburg held that the files of the so-called Limbach Commission or “Advisory Commission on the return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, especially Jewish property” by its full name – cannot be accessed on the basis of the German Freedom of Information Act (Informationsfreiheitsgesetz). Regular readers of this blog may recall that we reported the decision of the Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof) in the Hans Sachs restitution matter. The Hans Sachs restitution claims, before they were brought in court, had been dealt with by the Limbach Commission. The Limbach Commission had advised against the restitution of the Hans Sachs Collection from the German Historic Museum (Deutsches Historisches Museum) to the heirs of Hans Sachs.

The claimant, even though ultimately he did succeed in in court, had now requested access to the files of the Limbach Commission, to see on what basis the experts had at the time come to the conclusion that no restitution should be made. The claim was made both against the Lost Art Coordination Office (Koordinierungsstelle für Kulturgutverluste) and the Limbach Commission. Both refused to grant access, and the Magdeburg court confirmed this decision.

The key question before the Magdeburg court was whether the Limbach Commission was an institution that discharged administrative tasks (öffentlich-rechtliche Verwaltungsaufgaben) and hence, it fell within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. The operative wording in Section 1 Freedom of Information Act, which the court had to interpret, reads as follows:

“Everyone is entitled to official information from the authorities of the Federal Government in accordance with the provisions of this Act. This Act shall apply to other Federal bodies and institutions insofar as they discharge administrative tasks under public law ...

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