In order to keep you up to date with our latest developments in court practice in Bulgaria, we are publishing an overview of several important access to information court cases that were successfully led with AIP’s legal team assistance in 2013. Information about ongoing and completed access to information cases is included in Bulgarian in AIP monthly FOI newsletter and is available in the special section of AIP web site.
Тhe waste management company in Sofia is obliged under the APIA
By decision as of November 25, 2013, the Administrative Court – Sofia City held that the “Chistota-Iskar” EOOD (Sole shareholder Ltd.) is obliged under the APIA as a public law organization. The decision is not final yet.
The central heating provider company of Sofia is obliged under the APIA
The Supreme Administrative Court upheld a first instance court decision finding Toplofikatsia – Sofia EAD (the central heating provider company) to be an obliged body under the APIA as a public law organization.
The state-owned enterprise Bulgarian Air Traffic Services Authority is obliged under the APIA
By decision as of 24 October 2013, the Administrative Court – Sofia City repealed a refusal by the director of the state-owned enterprise Bulgarian Air Traffic Services Authority to provide information on the business trips of the managerial staff of the company in 2012. The case was initiated after a request of the journalist Svetla Vassileva from Duma Daily.
Overriding Public Interest
In several important judgments, the administrative courts and the Supreme Administrative Court balanced the exemptions against the right of access to information and found an overriding public interest in disclosure. Most of the cases relate to the balance between access and protection of personal data referring to politicians, public officials and magistrates. In these cases, the courts adhered to the standard that public figures enjoy less protection of personal data than private citizens. In other cases judges found that the public interest in disclosure overrides the “protection of internal documents” exemption, negotiations protection and commercial secrets.
a. Access to Information and Personal Data
MPs’ Party Subsidies Declarations Should be Disclosed
By decision as of May 2013, the Supreme Administrative Court repealed a first instance decision, as well as the Ministry of Finance refusal to provide information on the declarations of the independent members of parliament showing to which political party they had ordered the governmental subsidies attributed to them. The court held that according to the Constitutional court interpretation as of 2012, the protection of personal data of the MPs is far more lowered compared to that of other citizens and the public interest in disclosure overrides.
The Minister of Interior Should Disclose Awards Given to the Prosecutor General
By a decision as of July 2013, the Supreme Administrative Court repealed a refusal of the Minister of Interior to provide information on whether the recently elected Prosecutor General – Sotir Tzatzarov had received an award (a pistol) by the ministry at the time when he was president of the District Court – Plovdiv. The court held that information on awards given to high ranking officials by state institutions is not protected personal data but the interest in the disclosure overrides.
The Minister of Interior Should Disclose the Number and Goal of Meetings with Media Mogul/ MP
Finding overriding public interest in the disclosure of information on the meetings between the ministers of interior and Delyan Peevski (media mogul, MP, his appointment in June 2013 as head of the counterintelligence and organized crime-fighting agency – DANS – sparkled the ongoing wave of protests in Bulgaria), the Administrative Court – Sofia City repealed a refusal under the APIA. The request was filed by Rossen Bossev, a journalist from “Capital” newspaper.
The Municipal Council of Varna Should Disclose Bonuses in Municipal Companies
By decision as of June 19, 2013, The Supreme Administrative Court repealed a first instance court decision, as well as the Chairperson of the Municipal Council of Varna refusal to provide information on the amount of supplementary remuneration (bonuses) by the managers and supervisors of the municipal companies in Varna.
b. Preparatory Documents
The Ministry of Environment and Water Should Provide a Concession Legal Analysis
Access to the legal analysis of the Bansko ski-zone concession, requested by the environmental NGO WWF, was refused by the Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Environement and Water (MOEW) on the ground of preparatory documents exemption (protection of internal documents). By decision as of August 2013, the Administrative Court - Sofia City repealed the refusal instructed the MOEW to disclose the requested information. The decision is not final.
The President of the Sofia City Court Should Provide Data on Delayed Cases
Access to the information, requested by the journalist Doroteya Dachkova from Sega Daily, was refused on the ground that it had no significance of its own. In 2013 the Administrative Court – Sofia City found the denial unlawful as the information was of factual nature and could not be withheld on that ground.
A Ministry Should Disclose OLAF’s Report Held
The Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works had refused access to the OLAF’s final report on potential irregularities in an EU project implementation with the argument that the information is related to the preparatory work on the bodies’ decisions and had no significance in itself. The court held that the refusal had not specified the final acts for the preparation of which the information had been used, therefore the stakeholders had no way of obtaining information on the content of the report.
The Information on the Rural Development Programmes is public
The Administrative Court – Sofia City repealed a silent refusal by the director of State Fund “Agriculture” to provide information on the candidates trained in the Rural Development Programme in the period 10 May 2010 – 31 January 2013.
The Information on Approving and Ranking Science Projects is public
By decision as of October 2013, the Administrative Court – Sofia City repealed a silent refusal of the president of the Bulgarian Science Fund to provide information on the results of a call for proposals procedure in the priority area "Cultural and historical heritage" and specifically on the evaluation and ranking of all submitted projects, as well as on the reasons for approving or rejecting projects.