(Last updated August 30, 2021)
Where can the law be found? The law governing access to New Hampshire public records is the state’s Right to Know Law, officially known as Revised Statutes Annotated, Chapter 91-A: Access to Governmental Records and Meetings. Enacted in the 1960s, the Right to Know Law defines public records, states who is entitled to access to these records, and provides for remedies should the right of access be denied.
Who enforces the law? Any citizen may enforce the Right to Know Law by filing a petition in the Superior Court. The Attorney General’s Office has no enforcement role but plays an important advisory role for agencies. There is no ombudsman or similar public advocate.
What is considered a public record? Generally, all governmental records are subject to disclosure under New Hampshire’s Right to Know Law. Specifically, any information that is created, accepted or obtained by or on behalf of a public body or agency “in furtherance of its official function” must be publicly accessible.
What records are exempt from the law? Several categorical exceptions to the rule providing for public access are set forth in RSA 91-A:5, which may be accessed here. Many of the exempt categories of records rely on a balancing of privacy and other interests against the public interest in disclosure.
What records are covered by the law? In general, all public bodies or agencies are subject to the Right to Know Law. A public agency is ”any agency, authority, department, or office of the state or of any county, town, municipal corporation, school district, school administrative unit, chartered public school, or other political subdivision” of the state. Notable exceptions include the governor and the courts. Certain private entities may also be subject to the Right t0 Know Law depending on their structure and function.
What is the request procedure? There is no specific procedure for requesting access to public records required by the Right to Know Law. Although written requests are advisable, requests may be made orally as well. Under RSA 91-A:4, a public body must produce records immediately when they are immediately available. Otherwise, the agency has five business days to either produce the records, deny the request while stating the reason for the denial, or state the time needed to fulfill the request.
What are the fees? There is no fee that a requester must pay in order to view or inspect public records. A requester seeking copies of records, however, may be charged the actual cost of providing copies.
What is the appeals process? A citizen whose request for access to public records is denied may file a petition in the Superior Court to enforce the right of access. Such petitions are entitled to priority on the court’s calendar, and a hearing is often scheduled promptly. If the requester’s petition is denied, the decision may be appealed to the state Supreme Court within 30 days.