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Access to the premises of the National Assembly with the purpose of movie-making

Malina Petrova vs. the Chief Secretary of the National Assembly

First Instance Court – administrative case No. 3721/2008, Administrative Court – Sofia City, 2nd Division, 31st Panel
Second Instance Court – administrative case No. 4930/2009, Supreme Administrative Court, Thurd Division

Request:
In December 2007, Malina Petrova, a movie director, submitted a request to the Chairperson of the National Assembly, Mr. Georgy Pirinski, for access to the premises of the building at 1 Kniaz Alexander I Batenberg Square.1 The purpose of Ms. Petrova was to shoot a movie titled Giuro Mihailov and the Incendiaries. The movie was assigned to her after she had won a competition of the National Film Center to the Ministry of Culture in November 2006.The movie was related to one of the important events from the public life in Bulgaria during the past 18 years – setting the former Communist Party building on fire in 1990.

Months in a row, she did not receive any answer. That was why on May 15, 2008, Malina Petrova submitted a request for access to public information under the APIA demanding information about the official answer of the Chairperson of the National Assembly on her initial request regardless of the form.  

Refusal:
With a letter as of May 29, 2008, signed by the Chief Secretary of the National Assembly, Ms Petrova was informed that access to the building of the National Assembly may not be provided to her. It was pointed out that the building was under a special restrictive regime of access, as well as that in case the requested access to the building had been provided, parts of the building would have been isolated which would have impeded the access of MPs and officials to their working places, and consequently the functioning of the National Assembly (NA).

Complaint:
With the assistance of AIP, the refusal was appealed before the Administrative Court – Sofia City. The complaint argued that by its content, the letter constituted a refusal of letting the movie maker in the building of the NA and exercise her right to seek, receive and impart information. In the current case, not only her personal right was at stake, but also the right of the movie team and the right of the citizens to receive the information which she would have imparted through her movie. It was also stated that with her first request, Ms. Petrova explicitly stated that she would like her access to the building of the NA to be complied with the most convenient time for that, including non-working days for the MPs, etc.

Developments in the Court of First Instance:
The case was heard in three open court sessions. At the first two, the proceedings were stayed for collection of evidence. At the third court session in November 2008, the case was heard on the merit and scheduled for judgment. The court representative of the Chief Secretary alleged that the submitted request may not be defined in any way as a request for access to public information under the provision of Art. 2 of the APIA since the requested access would not help the complainant to form her own opinion on the activities of the NA. The representative argued that there existed specific legal regulation, precisely Art. 8 of the Rules for the Organization of the Work of the NA, according to which the Chairperson of the NA had the obligation and the authority to organize the internal order in the premises of the NA  and to provide working conditions for the MPs. Those should be taken into consideration. The representative also alleged that in the current case a balance of interests had been sought since access to the premises of the NA had been granted in all cases when the requestors had interest in the work of the NA. The case of the complainant, however, not being such.

Court Decision:
With a Decision No. 1083 as of December 23, 2008, a panel of the ACSC repealed the refusal of the Chief Secretary of the NA and sent him back the request with the instruction to provide the requested access on days and time considered by him as best in view of the functioning of the NA. In its judgment, the court panel concluded that in the particular case – specific and uncommon – the requested access to the building of the National Assembly and respectively the provision of such access for the shooting of a movie was in itself an access to public information case. The court assumed that position because the building was of a historical meaning and its representation (shooting) outside and inside, as well as representation of events which had taken place there in the past, constituted visual information related to the public life, although the past one, particularly to a part of the most recent history of the Republic of Bulgaria. The decision also stated that at the current moment, the premises at Alexander I Batenberg Sq.2 as a building charged with particular historical information were managed by the NA and the respective bodies of the NA are the only obliged bodies which the complainant may address to seek and receive that information. 

The court panel also stated the argument that Art. 2 of the APIA should be interpreted broadly -  as one applicable to not only present time, but also to the past. The provision shall be applied to the seeking, representation and dissemination of public information – facts and events – with a historical value.

The decision ended with arguments about how and when access should be provided to the building of the NA. Since the access may not be uncontrolled, the court panel ruled that it was within the authority of the Chief Secretary to determine the days and the time when access to the building of the NA would be provided, including the parliamentary recess, in such a way that the work of the MPs and the institution would not be impeded at all.  

Court Appeal:
The Decision of the ACSC was appealed by the Chief Secretary of the NA before the Supreme Administrative Court.

Developments in the Court of Second Instance:
Proceedings were started in the SAC on April 7, 2009, after the submission of the appeal. Hearing of the case in an open court session is pending.

1. The former Communist Party Building where currently the sessions of the parliamentary committees are held.

2. The former Communist Party building.

 

 


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English Version • Last Update: 05.06.2009 • © 1999 Copyright by Interia & AIP