The Right to Know Law RSA 91-A:4 grants all citizens the right to access public records.
This How To Guide gives you step-by-step instructions for accessing a public record by submitting a right to know request.
Decide the scope of your request:
- Decide what records you wish to inspect.
Typically this is either a specific document such as a report discussed at a public meeting, or it is about a specific topic such as all documents related a subject matter acted upon by the public body.
- Identify who is the custodian of the records.
Typically this is the administrative office for the public body or agency such as the town administrator, police chief, or school superintendent.
- Get the contact information for the custodian.
- Ask the custodian if any policy exists for processing Right to Know Requests. If so, request a copy and review prior to submitting your request as it will provide useful information and guidance.
- If you are not sure of what records you want, consider contacting the custodian to discuss what you are trying to learn and enlist their help to clarify your request.
- Decide what available record format you want to request.
If the document is stored electronically, then you may request electronic or paper format. If you request a format which is different from the original format of the record, you may incur costs to copy the record.
- Decide if you want copies or just want to inspect the records.
- Please note that you if only inspect records, access to inspect the records must be done at no cost. However, they can charge you the actual cost for copies.
Define your request:
- Document your request in writing.
Use this template as a starting point for writing your request. Modify as required.
- Reasonably describe the records clearly including record types and formats
Be as specific as possible while not excluding records you may want. Be careful how you word your request as the public body is not required to ‘create’ any records, ‘compile’ data, or answer questions.
Your objective: Request records that provide you with the information which will enable you to ‘create’ any records and ‘compile’ data so you may answer your questions.
If helpful, also specify any records you want excluded which may fall within the topic you are requesting
- Identify the time period for the records as a date range.
- Do your part to minimize the custodian’s effort to fulfill the request
Be clear, concise and courteous.
- Ask to ‘inspect’ records to avoid copying costs or request an estimate of any costs if seeking copies.
- Ask public body to cite in writing any exemption it is relying on for withholding any information not provided
Submit your request:
- Forward your request in writing to the custodian of the records.
Written requests are not required by law, but highly recommended.
- You do not need to provide any reason or justification for the request
Receive a response from the custodian:
- If the custodian requests that you fill out a form, you are not required by law to do so or provide any personal information.
- If the records are immediately available you should be allowed to inspect the records immediately. If the records are not immediately available, the law requires a written response within 5 business days.
The written response should acknowledge the request and either:
- Provide the records
- Deny the request
- Deny access to records or portions thereof
- Must cite the specific exemption authorizing the denial and how the exemption applies
- estimate the time necessary to determine whether the request shall be granted or denied
- Ask for an update if you do not receive a response in a timely manner.
- If you have not received a response to your request within 5 business days, as required by law, submit a second request noting that they are in violation of the law.
Accessing the public records:
- Make an appointment to access the records (if needed).
- Be respectful and polite.
- Ask for where you may have space to review the records.
- Treat the records with care.
- Take notes, photograph, scan, etc. the records (if needed).
- If you decide you want copies, ask for copies to be made. Ask about copy costs beforehand.
- Do not expect to be able to take the records out of the office to make copies elsewhere or examine them overnight.
Follow up to a request:
- If some records are not provided, ask for clarification of the response (if needed). The public body bears the burden to prove that an exemption applies for all records requested but not provided.
- Adjust the description of the records and resubmit request (if needed).
Denial of Records:
Per RSA 91-A:4 IV(c) If you are denied any records or portions thereof, the public body/agency must provide a written denial and cite the specific exemption used to justify the denial to make each record, or part thereof, available for inspection along with a brief explanation of how the exemption applies to the information withheld.
Revision Date: 1/21/2021