Access to Public Information
Dotcom Trading 121 (PTY) Ltd v. King
Closed Expands Expression
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The Administrative Court of Dobrich ordered the disclosure to a television news reporter of information contained in a court file. The Court ruled that the information sought by the reporter was relevant to establishing whether the former chairperson of the Administrative Court in the town of Varna had accepted bribes. The Court emphasized that bribery by a judicial officer is relevant to public life and any information the related to such conduct must be publicly available.
This case analysis was contributed by Right2Info.org.
In July 2008, a television news reporter, Desislava Krasteva, filed a request with the Chairperson of the Administrative Court in the town of Varna, Bulgaria for access to documents contained in the file of a case from the same court earlier that year. The request was made pursuant to the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) and Krasteva made the request as a result of allegations in the media that the former Chairperson had accepted bribes to decide that case in a particular way. The Chairperson of the Court reviewed and denied the request on the ground that the request was not for public information, as required by article 2 of APIA. The Chairperson found that personal data was excluded from access under the APIA, and all court cases contained personal data which was also protected by the Personal Data Protection Act.
Initially the refusal was challenged before the same Administrative Court and Krasteva argued that the case file to which access had been denied was of public interest and that disclosure of information regarding the court case would help the citizens form their own opinion on the lawfulness and the transparency of the activities of the judicial bodies. The judges at the Varna District Court indicated that they did not want to decide the case, and the matter was then sent to the Administrative Court in Dobrich, another town in Bulgaria.
The Administrative Court in Dobrich invalidated the refusal of the Chairperson and ordered the Administrative Court of Varna to provide access to the information in the case file. The Court reasoned that because there were allegations of bribery surrounding the Varna court’s former Chairperson, the information contained in the file was related to public life and assumed the character of public information. The Court noted that Bulgarian society has reached a stage of development at which there is a high public interest in and intolerance towards the possibility of corruption in state authorities.
The Court commented that the case to which access had been requested was started as a result of a conflict between a company and the State Receivables Collection Agency with regard to the lawfulness of a decision taken by the latter. The Court dismissed the company’s argument that access should be denied because the Court held that the protection of personal data may not be applied in cases of legal persons. In addition the Court pointed out that in the current case there was no legally protected trade secret either and that litigation regarding the State Receivables Collection Agency was open and public.
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