Documents contained in an administrative case file allegedly decided after a bribe
Desislava Krasteva (bTV) vs. the Administrative Court Varna
First Instance Court administrative case No.572/2008, Administrative Court Dobrich
With a request as of July 22, 2008, Desislava Krasteva, a reporter from the bTV, requested the Interim Chairperson of the Administrative Court at the town of Varna to provide access to the documents contained in the file of a 2008 administrative case from the case log of the same court. The request of the reporter had been urged by allegations in the press that the former chairperson of the court had taken a bribe to decide on that particular case.
The Interim Chairperson of the Administrative Court Varna reviewed the request on the same day of its submission and issued a Decision No. 2 under the APIA as of July 22, 2008. He refused the provision of access to information. The refusal was grounded mainly in the fact that the request was not for public information under the provision of Art. 2 of the APIA. The arguments were the following:
- the request had not been formulated as a request for access to public information rather as a request for information contained in a particular case file concerning particular persons;
- the type of requested information was not specified with its description, rather an access to specific documents was requested;
- the provision of Art. 2, Para. 4 of the APIA excluded the application of the law in terms of information that contained personal data, whereas every court case about a particular person contained their personal data as under the stipulation of the Personal Data Protection Act.
The refusal was challenged before the Administrative Court Varna. The complaint stated that the case file to which access had been denied was of public interest as it was related to the proceedings against the former Chairperson of the Administrative Court Varna who had allegedly taken a bribe for deciding on that particular case. It was also stated that the 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.
Developments in the Court of First Instance:
All judges from the Administrative Court at the town of Varna begged to be struck off the list. The case regarding the lawfulness of the refusal of access to information was sent under the Administrative Court at the town of Dobrich with a Ruling No. 11440 as of October 30, 2008 of the Third Division of the Supreme Administrative Court.
The Administrative Court Dobrich heard the case in one court session and scheduled it for judgment. Written notes, prepared by Alexander Kashumov, a lawyer from Access to Information Programme, were presented on behalf of the complainant. The notes stated in detail the arguments about the unlawfulness of the refusal.
With a Decision as of January 5, 2009, the Administrative Court Dobrich repealed the refusal of the Interim Chairperson of the Administrative Court Varna and obligated the latter to provide access to the information contained in the administrative case file. In its judgment, the court ruled that due to the fact that there were publicly expressed allegations in terms of the proceedings regarding the detention of the former Chairperson of the Administrative Court Varna after an indict for bribery, the information contained in the case file was related to the public life in Bulgaria and assumed the characteristic of public information. According to the court, the high public interest that had emerged was a result of the condition that the Bulgarian society had reached a state of its development at which it expressed intolerance towards the possibility of existence of corruption in the state authorities. In its judgment, the court pointed out 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, however, found the explicit dissent for the provision of access to the case expressed by the company irrelevant as the protection of personal data may not be applied in cases of legal persons. The court pointed out that in the current case there was no legally protected trade secret either and that the litigation regarding the State Receivables Collection Agency was open and public.