Documents from the First Bureau of the former State Security Services
Bogdana Lazarova (Darik Radio) vs. The National Intelligence Services
First Instance–administrative case No. 2576/2005, Sofia City Court, Administrative Division, Panel III-B
Second Instance–administrative case No.3455/2006, Supreme Administrative Court, Fifth Division
On May 12, 2005, Ms. Bogdana Lazarova, a journalist from Darik Radio, submitted a request for access to information to the Director of the National Intelligence Services (NIS). She demanded access to information that was contained in the documents from the First Bureau of the former State Security Services (SSS) related to the case of Sergei Antonov and the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II.
A written decision was issued by the NIS refusing access to the requested information on the grounds that it had been classified as a state secret. The decision stated that the archival materials that were being kept by NIS regarding this issue constituted a collection of documents with different types of classification, the highest level being top secret. Consequently, the whole collection was under protection for a period of 30 years. Furthermore, the decision noted that the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) also imposed restrictions on free access to these archival materials since the documents contained personal data.
The refusal was challenged before the Sofia City Court (SCC) with the argument that the decision itself was null and void since it had been signed by a person other than the Director of the NIS and no data about this person's authorization to decide on Access to Public Information Act issues were presented. Furthermore, the argument stated that the interpretation of Art. 30, Para. 3 of the Protection of Classified Information Act (PCIA) related to the classification of the collection of documents and the period for classification was wrong. The purpose of the provision was not to classify a whole collection of documents for the longest possible period of time, but to prevent a person who had not been licensed with a security clearance under the procedures of the PCIA from working with the documents. Therefore, in cases like this one, the administrative body covered by the APIA should provide partial access to the information by removing the documents that contained classified information from the whole collection.
Developments in the Court of First Instance:
At the first session, in a formal ruling the Sofia City Court declared the complaint inadmissible since it was overdue and terminated the proceedings, though a receipt evidencing the timely delivery of the complaint letter was presented in court. In order to deliver a ruling, the court assumed that evidence was missing in this case, i.e. that there was no proof that an envelope containing the letter of complaint had ever been sent to the NIS.
Appeal Against the Ruling:
The ruling of the SCC that terminated the proceedings was appealed before the Supreme Administrative Court.
With Ruling No. 4991, as of May 11, 2006, a panel of the SAC repealed the ruling of the SCC and returned the case to the first instance for further court proceedings. In their judgment, the justices stated that the SCC had wrongly judged that the complainant had not proved the contents of the parcel post (the letter of complaint). The documents that had been sent by the complainant and received by the administrative body on the dates stamped on the delivery receipt note were missing. The administrative body itself had not presented any evidence in this regard, which is why the the first instance court’s assumption that the delivery receipt note presented as evidence did not prove that the complaint was sent to the institution within the legally prescribed time frame was based on an incorrect interpretation of the data.
Developments in the Court of First Instance (again):
The case was heard in a single open court session on November 15, 2006, and was scheduled for judgment.
In a decision on February 5, 2007, a panel of the SCC declared the Director of the National Intelligence Services’ refusal null and void. In their judgment, the justices stated that the refusal had been signed with a comma and that evidence about the authority of the person who had signed the refusal instead of the Director was missing.
The decision was not appealed and thus came into effect. A new decision on the request is pending.