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How to Get Access to Information - Guide for citizens

 

I. Who has the right to access to information

The APIL grants EVERYONE the right to access to information. This means that every
- Bulgarian citizen
- foreign citizen or a person without citizenship
- Bulgarian or foreign legal entity
has the right to file a request for access to information and to receive it.

II. Who has the obligation to grant information

All the state authorities and the local authorities are obliged to grant information.
All the public legal entities and all the persons financed by the state budget are also obliged.
The media are obliged to grant only a certain type of information (Art. 18 of the APIL).
(Please, see Appendix 1 - An example of the list of the legally-obliged entities)


III. What kind of information can we require under the law?

Any information held by the state institutions.

Any information is recorded on some medium. The most important information held by the state and the municipal institutions is contained in the documents they create. These could be both orders by ministers, mayors and so on, or decisions by the municipal councils, agencies and so on, that have been issued for any reason and purpose.
Except the official documents, the state and municipal institutions hold a lot of information, which is printed or simply written down on paper, and as such does not constitute a document. Such kind of information is, for example, the list of visitors, held by the doormen.
Sometimes it is not enough just to read the document, which we are interested in. Seeing the accompanying opinions, positions, recommendations, remarks, and all other materials, which are held in the file of the document is also important. If required, we have the right to view any and all such information.
With the advance of technology, information may be recorded on a different medium. Computers are massively introduced in the state and municipal administration and information is kept on floppy discs, CDs or on hard discs. Closed-circuit monitoring devices, for example, keep this information on tapes. Meetings and sessions are recorded on tapes or CDs.

Everybody has the right to access to information, regardless of the medium on which it is held.


IV. How to get access to information?

1. Where to request access to information

In cases of both non-written and written requests for information, you should address a certain official. However, as the law does not clearly define the position of such officials, you should ask who exactly is responsible for this service. In every particular case you will be able to inquire or file in an application in one of the following departments:
o reception hall for citizens
o press center and public relations department
o official records office
o special department, if any, dealing with access to information requests

NB!
It is possible that officials might refuse to acknowledge your applicationyou, meaning that you will not be given an incoming number. In this case, you should send the application by registered post to the respective institution.

2. How to request access to information

The access to information request can be either non-written or written. Information may be required electronically as well.

NB!
It is advisable, however, that you file in a written application (see 2.2., please), because this is the only proof that you have requested the information.

2.1 Non-written request

The first step is to inquire who is the official in charge for granting information. You may address him/her with your question and require the information you want, specifying in what form you want it to be: non-written information; viewing or reading the information; copies on paper or any other medium.
The official is obliged to make the information available to you upon request. If the official is delaying the procedure, referring your question to someone else, requiring additional documents from you, giving you insufficient quality or quantity of information or simply refusing to make it available, you should file a written request.

2.2. Written application for access to information

In accordance with the law you may file in a written application. It should contain:
1. obligatory: three names. For legal entities - name and headquarters
2. obligatory: what kind of information you request. You may:
- put it in a descriptive way, (For example: "I want to obtain the whole available information about É.issue.");
- specify the documents, which you are interested in, if you know their number, date of issue, and type;
- identify the documents by all the details you know about them - for example by the addressee of an order. It is not necessary to know any details about the document you need. It would be sufficient to know enough so that the document concerned can be adequately identified.
3. You should specify in what form you want to receive the information. This means that you should indicate whether you want:
- verbal inquiry
- viewing of the information
- copy of a document.
4. obligatory: address for correspondence
The application is not supposed to be in any particular form. It may be in handwriting, typewritten or produced electronically.

NB!

If you fail to fill in your names, the required information or address for correspondence, your application will not be considered.
It is not obligatory to specify the way you want to receive the information.
Your application must be registered in the respective department and receive an incoming number. Do not forget to preserve the incoming number.

3. In what form we get information

In accordance with the law we can get access to information in several different forms. It is your decision to require any form of access to information and the respective institution is obliged to conform with it. You may ask for:
o verbal inquiry
o viewing and reading all the available information in place
o a copy on paper or other technical medium.
You may ask for several forms as well. For example, first you may view and read the information and then you may ask for a copy of certain records.

NB!
According to the law persons with visual or hearing disabilities can request the information to be delivered in the most convenient form.

4. What to expect after the request is submitted

Your request must be responded to within 14 days of the application date. The information is granted by virtue of a decision of the respective institution.

Decision to grant access to the required information

In the decision the respective institution should indicate:
o what part of the required information is granted access to
o for what period of time the information is granted
o where the required information can be obtained
o form of access
o charges

Information should not be granted for less than 30 days. Access itself is free, but charges may be levied to cover the expenses related to making the information available - the copies, recordings, etc.

NB!
If you fail to keep the deadline for access or fail to pay the charges, you lose your right to access the required information, which is granted by virtue of a particular decision. In this case, you should re-apply.

Letter of clarification

It is possible for you to receive a letter requesting you to detail the information you need, typically when your request is considered too broad or unclear, for example, "I need information about the privatization process." This does not mean that you are supposed to have the specific numbers and the names of the documents. In this case you may simply specify your request as "I need all the available information about the privatization of company X ". You will be supposed to respond to any such requests within 30 days. If you miss the deadline, your initial application will not be considered.

NB!
A reply to your detailed request must reach you within 14 days.

Letter of extension of the processing period

The reasons for this letter could be:

A) the quantity of the information you require is too large and it will take a long period of time to select and compile. It is possible to receive a letter that the processing period must be extended. You have to consider that the extension period cannot be longer than 10 days (or a total of 24 days since you have filed in the application).

NB!
The letter extending the processing period must clearly specify:
- the reasons for the extension
- the deadline for granting the requested information.

B) The consent of a third party must be sought to grant you the information you requested. You have to bear in mind that the extension period cannot be longer than 14 days (this means 28 days from the day of the initial application).

Letter of forwarding the request

You may receive a letter, which informs you that the required information is available in another institution, and your request is being forwarded. In this case you are not supposed to apply again. However, you should check when your request was forwarded as the 14 days deadline for the response is valid from this day.

NB!
The letter notifying that your request has been forwarded must state the name and the address of the respective institution or physical entity to which your request has been forwarded.

A letter of refusal

A refusal to grant information must meet the requirements of the law. You will be notified of a refusal by registered post or being asked to sign a document to that efect.
Such a notification must state:
- on what grounds access was refused

- statutory reasons for the refusal

- to what institution and within what period of time you can appeal the decision.

NB!
Even though the law does not provide for a so-called "mute refusal", it is possible not to receive a reply at all. This is an administrative offense and the respective official should be fined with 20-50 leva, under Art. 42, P. 1 of the law.
In such cases, do not hesitate to inform the Access to Information Program - we can always be of help with free legal advice.

In other cases you may receive a decision for granting only a certain part from the required information. This means "partial refusal" for access to information.

Every decision for refusal can be appealed to the court.

NB!
You should check whether the grounds for the refusal are stated in the decision (see p. V). The decision must clearly state the statutory reasons for the refusal. It is illegal to just refer to orders, instructions, codes of conduct, etc.


V. What are the grounds to refuse access to information

In some cases access to information can be refused by the state and the local government officials. However, the law overrules any decision by the representatives of the administration and their seniors. Under the law grounds for must be listed clearly in a law. Access to information cannot be refused with arguments and explanations such as "this is inside information", "the required document is not official", or "the data is not processed", etc. The law entitles the state and the local institutions to refuse access to information only in instances clearly defined by it.
Under the law the grounds can be as follows:
- state secret (see Appendix II)
- official secret (see Appendix III)
- the requested information refers to citizens or legal entities that object to revealing it.
- information, which you have requested before less than six months and you have received it
- the information is related to the operative preparation of the acts of the institution and has no significance of its own (opinions, recommendations, statements, consultations) and when it contains statements and recommendations to current or future talks, negotiations (art. 13, p. 2 from the law).
Institutions have the discretion to decide whether to withhold or grant information ONLY in the latter case. In ALL other cases the institutions must abide by the law and do not have the discretion to make decisions.
State and local government institutions are obliged to present their refusal in writing.

NB!
In cases of refused access to information our advice is to make sure whether the respective reference to the law is correct and whether some law allowing refusal exists. In cases when you have asked for more than one document or record, you have to pay attention whether the refusal refers to all of them, in case just some of them are confidential.

In all these cases you have the right to address the court or to apply with the same request again with an additional explanation that there are no grounds for refusing your previous request. In these cases you may also contact the AIP where you will get free legal advice.

VI. How to appeal to the court

In every case of refusal you may appeal to the court within 14 days.
You have to appeal to your regional court or to the Sofia City Court (if you live in the city of Sofia). If the refusal comes from the Council of Ministers or other Ministries, Ministers or an institution subordinate to the Council of Ministers, you may appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court.

NB!
The appeal is addressed to the court and is sent through the institution that has refused to grant you access to information. You have to file it in the administrative department or to send it by registered post where you have to specify that you appeal against decision number X of date of the respective institution.



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English Version • Last Update:10.12.2001 • © 1999 Copyright by Interia & AIP