Serbian Parliament Adopts Access Law

5 November 2004

The Serbian National Assembly, in its Plenary Session on November 2, 2004, adopted the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance. The Law will enter into force eight days after its publication in the Official Gazette of Serbia.

The Law establishes the right of free access to information in the possession of public authorities (state organs at all levels, as well as legal persons established and financed wholly or mostly by state organs) to all without discrimination and regardless of intended use. Government agencies are to respond to applications for information "without delay" and within a maximum of 15 days. For issues regarding the protection of life, personal freedom, or threats against public health or the environment, the deadline is 48 hours. The Law also envisages exceptional circumstances under which state organs are not obliged to release information.

As it now stands, the new law has both strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, the Law establishes a new, sui generis institution, the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, as an independent, second-level appeal instance. A majority of parliamentarians understood the need for a strong, independent, second-level appeal instance in the shape of the Commissioner, even if it was not envisaged in the current Serbian institution. Free access to information will be better granted and protected by a new special institution that, according to the Law, has the right and the obligation to promote and enhance free access to information in practice and to assist all state organs in carrying out their new responsibilities. The main "battle" during discussion was between those in favor of such a new institution and those who opposed it on constitutional grounds.

The main weakness of the Law is that it does not allow an applicant to file a complaint against the decisions of high-level authorities: the President of the Republic, the National Assembly, the Government, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court and the Office of the Republican Prosecutor. However, in such cases an administrative dispute may be filed. The amendment that was intended to solve this problem was unanimously adopted within parliamentary commissions, but has not received enough votes during the Plenary Session.

However, the main challenge will be in the Law’s implementation. The Coalition of NGOs for Free Access to Information will monitor the implementation of the Law during 2005 as a pilot project of the Fund for an Open Society, Serbia. It is expected that future efforts will result in a better understanding of the Law’s potential and address its apparent weaknesses.


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