Impermissible Pressures by the Public Prosecution Service on the Institution of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection

March 23, 2017

14860497261The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights is extremely concerned by the pressures and infringement on the independence of the institution of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection and the public prosecution service’s increasingly frequent refusal to comply with the Commissioner’s rulings.

The latest in the series of actions of the public prosecution service impinging on the independence of the Commissioner is the letter the Belgrade Higher Public Prosecution Service sent the Commissioner, in which it said that it would review whether his failure to render a decision on a complaint within the 30-day deadline stipulated by the law contained elements of a criminal offence. The BCHR is of the view that such pressure on an independent institution is impermissible in states governed by rule of law and amounts to the violation of Serbia’s legal order and the principle of the rule of law. The public prosecution service is an autonomous state authority charged with prosecuting perpetrators of criminal and other punishable offences and taking measures to protect constitutionality and lawfulness, wherefore this letter can only be qualified as a warning or a threat, which definitely does not fall within the prosecution service’s powers under the Constitution and the law.

In addition, the public prosecution services have refused to respond to requests for access to information about their work and actions they have undertaken in numerous cases, especially those provoking major public interest, such as the “Savamala” and “Helicopter Crash” cases, even after the Commissioner reviewed the complaints about denial of access, found such denial ill-founded and issued rulings ordering the prosecution services to provide access to the requested information. The Commissioner imposed fines on the public prosecution service for non-compliance with its orders in three cases regarding access to information about the |”Savamala” case. The public prosecution service also failed to comply with the Commissioner’s order to provide access to the requested information about the “Helicopter Crash” case.

Indeed, the law allows the public authorities to challenge the Commissioner’s rulings by filing lawsuits and initiating administrative disputes – a possibility the public prosecution services availed themselves of as many as 28 times – but this fact does not justify the services’ failure to comply with the Commissioner’s orders, because the Free Access to Information of Public Importance Act lays down that the Commissioner’s rulings shall be final, enforceable and binding.