E-access to public information, case I C 19/10

April 29th, 2010, Tomasz Rychlicki

Grzegorz W. made a request for access to minutes of meetings of the audit committee of the city council. He asked that the information was sent to his home address. The Municipality and City Czerwionka – Leszczyny replied that it is possible to get acquaint with the requested documents in their virtual version that was published in the Bulletin of Public Information. There was also an option to obtain a photocopy or computer file upon application and payment of a fee based on the provisions of Article 1(1) of the Polish Act of 6 September 2001 on Access to Public Information – API – (in Polish: Ustawa o dostępie do informacji publicznej), published in Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No. 112, item 1198, with subsequent amendments.

Each information on public matters constitutes public information in the understanding of the Act and is subject to being made available on the basis of principles and under the provisions defined in this Act.

Grzegorz W. informed the Municipality and City Czerwionka – Leszczyny that he expects to receive the documents in the form of photocopies. All documents were sent along with the request for payment based on the rules issued by the Mayor on charges for making the public information available. Grzegorz W. refused to pay and urged the Mayor to amend the ordinance in question, as it was incompatible with the provisions of Articles 7(2) and 15(2) of the API.

Article 7. 1. Making public information available takes place by means of:
1) announcing public information, including official documents, in the Public Information Bulletin, mentioned in Article 8,
2) making it available, mentioned in Articles 10 and 11,
3) entrance into the meetings of the bodies, defined in Article 3, it. 1, point 3, and making the materials available, including the audio-visual and tele-communicating, documenting these meetings.
2. Access to public information is free, with the stipulation of Article 15.

Article 15. 1. If as a result of making public information on the petition, defined in Article 10, it. 1, the entity obliged to do this, is to incur the additional costs connected with the method defined in the petition of a method of making it available or necessity to transform the information in the form pointed in the petition, this entity is entitled to the payment from the petitioner covering these costs.
2. The entity, defined in it. 1, within 14 days of submitting the petition, shall notify the petitioner of the amount of the payment. Making the information available in accordance with the petition takes place after the expiration of the period of 14 days of notifying the petitioner unless the petitioner makes within this period the change in the petition in the scope of method and form of making this information available or withdraw the petition.

After very active exchange of letters and calls between both parties, the case went to the court. On 7 October 2009, the Referee in the Regional Court Katowice Wschód in Katowice made the order in the admonition proceedings case file I Nc 1140/09/13 and adjudged Grzegorz W. to pay 14,58 PLN plus costs of the proceedings. Grzegorz W. filed an objection against the order and the Municipality and City Czerwionka – Leszczyny sustained their claims. The Regional Court Katowice Wchód in Katowice in its judgment of 27 April 2010 case file I C 19/10 rejected all claims filed by the Municipality and City Czerwionka – Leszczyny. The Court held that Article 7(2) of the API introduced the principle of free access to public information. All exceptions to this rule are provided in Article 15(2) of the API. There are only two exceptions to the principle of free access. The first concerns the method (form) of making the information available and the second concerns a situation in which additional costs are associated with the transformation of the requested information. According to the Court, the forms should be understood by both the particular shape of the information held, which requires additional effort (for instance digitization and processing of documents held by the entity) and as a special way of making such information available. The Court also noted that the entity making the information available is obliged to ensure the possibility of copying of public information or its printout or sending the public information or transferring it to the appropriate, commonly used information carrier. The Court held that the Municipality and City Czerwionka – Leszczyny should also demonstrate that it had incurred additional costs. Finally, the Court also held that making the price-lists and introducing flat-rate charges for making the public information available, violates the provisions of the API because each price-list/tariff is a form of lump sum and this does not correspond to the essence of the costs actually incurred. Article 15(1) of the API indicates the additional costs and therefore the costs that were actually incurred by a given entity.

See also “Polish case law on e-access to public information“.