The right to free access to information of public importance is, without a doubt, a right of great importance and significance in modern society. We can all agree that the public has the right to know the information held by public authorities since public authorities are representatives and take actions in the interest of all citizens. There should be no doubt about whether their work should be transparent and accessible to public scrutiny.
The norm that recognizes this right seems to be insufficiently adapted to our reality. The Law on the Protection of the Right to Access to Information of Public Importance explicitly defines that:
1/ everyone has the right to make information of public importance accessible to them by allowing them to inspect a document containing information of public importance, the right to a copy of that document, and the right to have a copy of the document sent to them by mail, fax, email, or by other means;
2/ information of public importance is any information held by a public authority, produced in the course of or in connection with the work of a public authority, contained in a specific document, and pertains to anything the public has a legitimate interest in knowing;
3/ it is assumed that the public has a legitimate interest in knowing any information of public importance, and the authority must prove otherwise.
In theory, we can agree that this broadly defined norm is set up in this way to prevent public officials from evading the demands of the public to know. However, our clients, our colleagues, and even the Office of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance are witnesses to the fact that this important right (now, for an extended period) has been subject to clear abuse involving specific organizations and unfortunately, two of our colleagues who are lawyers. We are aware that thousands of requests have been sent from the addresses of these two individuals. This, in itself, implies that they have no need for any information of public importance but that their goal is something different, potentially fraudulent.
Due to their persistent and unrestricted abuse of the law-prescribed right, we have reached an absurd situation where this significant right has been turned into a means of acquiring financial gains. This was further facilitated by the change in the legal stance of the Administrative Court judges, which granted the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance the “authority” to decide on the costs of the procedure when deciding on the appeals of information seekers. The Office of the Commissioner for the Protection of Information of Public Importance has been turned, through the diligent work of “information seekers,” into a service that approves their appeals and allocates costs. Public authorities, including institutions such as kindergartens, hospitals, health centers, and social institutions, are exposed to continuous harassment in their search for unnecessary data (the number of diplomas and graduation dates of each employee from – to), which prevents them from performing their primary duties. Anyone with a legitimate reason to request public information is placed at the end of an infinite line and effectively prevented from exercising their rights.
The true intentions of the “information seekers” are revealed in the content of the appeals they promptly send to the Commissioner, where the focus is not on obtaining information but on obtaining the costs of the procedure.
In this particular case, it is evident that both the state and the Bar Association need to take action. The state must not allow the paralysis of an institution by two (or a few) individuals who resort to such means solely for the purpose of gaining unwarranted financial benefits through the collection of costs for procedures they themselves provoked. This leaves behind exhausted institutions, depleted financial resources, and frozen accounts, ultimately undermining the meaning of an important right – the right of each of us to request access to information of public importance. The Bar Association should ensure whether such lawyers protect the honor and reputation of their profession with their actions and whether the legal profession can be reduced to gaining advantages through the abuse of legal institutions.
Disclaimer: This text is written for informational purposes only as well as to give general information and understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. For any additional information feel free to contact us.