Amendments to the Access to Public Information Act were passed at first hearing in Parliament on Thursday, May 8, 2003. Access to Information Programme actively participated in the process of promoting the adoption of the Amending Act. AIP has held several discussions on the draft with the MPs, who introduced it into Parliament. AIP members have participated and expressed their opinions on all discussions of the three responsible Parliamentary Committees (Civil Society Affairs Committee, Human Rights and Religious Affairs Committee, and Legal Affairs Committee). The conformity of the Amending Act to the recently adopted Recommendation (2002)2 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe was discussed on a round table in May, 2002. The round table was organized by AIP with the help of the Media Division of the Council of Europe and financial support of the Government of Luxemburg for journalists, MPs, international experts, and jurists.
Here are the most important changes that the Amending Act will make if adopted:
1 . A more precise definition of the term "public information". Public information will be any information kept, received or created by the obliged institutions, which does not constitute state secret or other secret set down in law.
2. Further specification of the range of institutions, obliged to provide access to public information under the Act. The Amending Act would explicitly oblige territorial branches of the executive power, besides the central institutions. The reason for this amendment is the developed practice of the territorial branches to forward information requests to the central institutions, instead of examining them. Heads of the territorial departments have repeatedly argued, they are not obliged under the Act, but only central institutions are.
3. Media will no longer be obliged to provide access to information under the new Act.
4. Article 14, para. 2 item 3 of the current act will be amended to include the so called "balance of interests" principle. According to this international standard, the right to information access cannot be denied formally (i.e. solely on the basis of some legal provision). Instead, the Act provides an opportunity for the officials to disclose certain categories of information, when the public interest prevails over the interest that a certain prevention form access would protect.
5. The amending act provides for a limitation of the period, in which preparatory documents under art. 13 para. 2 item 1 of APIA can be exempt from access, only to the moment of publishing the final act. This proposed change is of great importance, because one of the main purposes of APIA is to create opportunities for public participation in the decision-making process and for informed criticism of the decisions taken.
6. The new Act make an amendment in article 41 of APIA, which will allow information access to be provided to the requestors on the basis of a court decision only. Until now, following a favorable court decision, requestors had to renew the application procedure (i.e., to file a new, separate request) in order to actually receive information access.
7. Introduction of an administrative procedure for appealing both decisions to disclose and refusals to grant information. Until now appeals against refusals to grant information access could only be filed in court.
8. The fine in cases when officials refuse to issue a decision on an information request, or to abide to a court decision are nearly doubled in the Amending Act.
9. Introduction of a six-month period form the adoption of The Amending Act, in which all regional and central institutions have to appoint a specific official responsible for APIA issues. At the same time (and in the same six-month term) institutions have to appoint places or reading rooms, where created or received documents will be kept.
Ninety MPs voted for the adoption of the Act and two were against from a total of 102 voters. Read the text of the amendments, the reasons of the presenters, and the opinion of the AIP team here.: http://www.aip-bg.org/en/legislation/legalopinions/2002/