Bulgarian Court Orders Release of Minutes of Meeting

17 December 2010

A Bulgarian court Nov. 11 compelled the release of minutes of a meeting between President Georgi Parvanov and  former Russian President Vladimir Putin held in January 2008.

The complaint was brought by the journalist Lachezar Lisicov with the help of Access to Information Programme (AIP). “The minutes were of a huge public interest as crucial energy projects and strategy were discussed during the meeting,” according to a AIP statement.

Two days after the court decision, the minutes of the meeting of the two delegations and a memo of the private meeting between the heads of state were published on the website of the President. “The publication of the requested information is the fastest execution of court decisions and huge step towards more transparency in decision-making process,” AIP commented.

The background of the decision, as described by AIP:

In April 2010, Lachezar Lisicov, a journalist from a local newspaper, requested access to the minutes of the meeting of the official delegations and the minutes of the in private meeting between the two presidents. The President’s administration failed to reply to the access to information request within the 14-days time limit set forth by the Access to Public Information Act (APIA).

With the help of AIP, the journalist brought a complaint before the Administrative Court Sofia City against the silent refusal. The complaint states that the silent refusal was unlawful as the APIA requires the public authority to issue an explicit decision on the request and in case of refusal to motivate it. The court also agrees with the complainant’s argument that the requested information is public within the meaning of Art. 2 para. 1 of the APIA as it enables the citizens to form their own opinion on the work of the President  representing the State in its international relations. The Chief Secretary of the President’s Administration, who is authorized to decide on access to information requests, argued that minutes of the in private meeting of the Presidents cannot be provided as the international practice is such conversations not to be recorded.

The court refuted this argument. According to the administrative practice, records of official meetings, discussions and sessions are being made. The court points out that according to the Regulation for the implementation of the State Protocol Act the in private meetings are not excluded from the general obligation to make and keep records. The court also stresses on the fact that this was official meeting and the fact that the conversation was only between the two heads of state does not mean that it was confidential and even if this was the case the public authority is still obliged to issue a motivated decision on the access to information request.

For these reasons with its decision as of November 11, 2010 the court compelled the administration of the President of Bulgaria to provide the information. The decision is final because the Chief Secretary of the President’s Administration did not appeal the first instance decision within the timeframe.

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