06 December 2011
In Bulgaria, the public prosecution office falls under the scope of the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) since its adoption in 2000 but it took more than ten years to change its practices of secrecy. The cases described below show unambiguously what important tool is the APIA to expose wrongdoings and corruption.
The beginning - the 2010 court decision
In December 2010 Access to Information Programme won a case against a denial of the Supreme Office of Prosecution to disclose an internal investigation report out of an inspection of the Sofia Regional Prosecutor's Office on the ground that this was a preparatory document with no significance in itself (exemption under Art. 13, para. 2 of the APIA). The report revealed number of malpractices of prosecutors and dysfunctioning of the system. Afterwards, AIP supported the demand for that kind of information and advocated for more transparency.
More about this court case is available at: http://www.aip-bg.org/library/dela/case115.htm
The new trend toward openness
In 2011, there was a new tendency to open prosecution authorities’ documents to the public upon request. In August 2011, the Deputy Sofia City Prosecutor disclosed documents of check-up related to the Chairman of the district court of Haskovo on the request of two journalists (Rosen Bosev from Capital weekly and Mirela Veselinova from the Legal World magazine). The judge was a candidate for Chairperson of the newly created Specialized Criminal Court (which is competent to hear cases of high public interest as they relate to organized crime). The inspection revealed malfunctioning of the court of Haskovo and violations of the principle of random allocation of court cases (cases of important pecuniary interest were allocated to the Chairman) and often his rulings lacked reasoning and grounds. The documents were subsequently published by the journalists on the website of the Legal World magazine.
In late September 2011, the Prosecutor General’s Office disclosed an inspection report on a request of the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives (BILI). It reconsidered its previous denial of the same information only few days later, following the AIP argument adduced by BILI in informal way by e-mail that the court had already declared the denial of such information unlawful in 2010 and that the prosecution office disclosed not less sensitive information in August 2011 (the above described one). It was also argued that the Inspectorate to the Supreme Judicial Council publishes such reports on its website (but this specific one was not carried out by the Inspectorate so it had to be requested pursuant to the APIA).
This trend to openness of a traditionally opaque and encapsulated institution shall be welcomed but more is to be accomplished and AIP will continue to advocate for more transparency.