A Polish company requested the Ministry of the Interior and Administration (MIA), and Director of the Centre of Information of MIA, to disclose all legal opinions prepared by the Polish Information Processing Society that concerned IT systems created by the Ministry. The Director provided all the requested documents, however the Ministry only asked the Company to clarify the request in the letter sent on October 2009. The Company filed a complaint for failure to act, claiming administrative inaction in its case. The Ministry also argued that the requested information cannot be disclosed because such expert opinions are copyrighted materials, and as such, are not deemed as public information.
The Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw in its judgment of 4 February 2010 case file II SAB/Wa 155/09 agreed with the Company and ordered the MIA to disclose requested information. The Court ruled that such expertises are public information, so they should be disclosed, unless they contain secret information protected by law. The Minister of MIA filed a cassation complaint. The Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 3 August 2010 case file I OSK 757/10 repealed the contested judgment and returned it to the VAC for further reconsideration. However, the SAC only discussed and held that the VAC did not examine whether there was administrative inaction of the MIA. The Court did not examine the allegation that there was a breach of regulations 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. The Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw in its judgment of 8 September 2011 case file II SAB/Wa 174/11 was bound by the interpretation of the SAC, and decided that there was administrative inaction. The Minister of the Interior and Administration, once again filed a cassation complaint.
The Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 7 March 2012 case file I OSK 2265/11 dismissed it. The SAC held that if the Minister found that it had the requested information, while it also concluded that there are obstacles to the disclose because of the circumstances set out in Article 5 of the API, or other provisions of specific laws, it was obliged to initiate ex officio proceedings on the refusal to disclose information. The refusal should be issued as an administrative decision only. The lack of such a decision was deemed as administrative inaction, subject to a complaint. The letter sent by the Minister on October 2009 was clearly not an administrative decision. The SAC reminded that the administrative decision should obligatory contain: the name of public authority, date, identity of the party or parties, the legal basis on which the decision was issued, the conclusion and findings, factual and legal grounds, instruction, whether and how to file an appeal against the decision, the signature with the name, surname and position of the person authorized to issue a given decision. Although the letter was signed and affixed with the seal by the Deputy Director of Administration and Finance Office of the MIA, is was not mentioned that the Director acted under the authority of the Ministry. The letter did not contain a ruling on the request of the Company, but on the contrary – the Director explicitly stated that the request was not recognized in accordance with that Act on access to public information. The Letter had no form of a decision, it did not include the instruction, whether and how to file an appeal against it. The Court decided that this letter was purely information message sent on paper. The Polish legislature did not formulate any legal definition of “access to public information”, or the very concept of public information, both in the Polish act on access to public information or in any other legal act. However, Article 1 of the API ab initio provides that 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. According to legal commentators, a public matter is the activity of both public authorities, economic and professional self-government bodies that exercise tasks of official authority and the management of public property. A specific individual case of a person, especially of a private nature, is not deemed as public matters. The access to administrative files falls Within the catalog of public information. Public information is therefore the content of any document relating to public authority. These range from documents produced by government bodies, as well as those used in the execution of the tasks provided for by law, even if they do not come directly from the authorities. Such opinion was confirmed by the Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 30 October 2002 case file II SA 1956/02, the Voivodeship Administrative Court in Opole in its judgment of 17 January 2008 case file II SAB/Op 20/07, the Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw in its judgmet of 16 July 2008 case file II SA/Wa 721/08, the Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw in its judgmet of 26 June 2008 case file II SA/Wa 111/08. The criterion for determining the disclosure and availability of the documents under the API is not their authorship, but the opinion that they are used to carry out public duties, and were prepared at the request of public authorities, when at the same time, their content and does not violate the privacy of an individual or trade secrets of business. It is not about the disposal of copyright, but about access to the content of the document that was created on behalf of the public authority to carry out public duties. Such opinion was confirmed by the Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 15 July 2011 case file I OSK 667/11, by the Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 7 December 2010 case file I OSK 1774/10, by the Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 18 September 2008 case file I OSK 315/08, by the Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 9 February 2007 case file I OSK 517/06. Not all opinions or expertise, that were created by a public authority or on behalf of public authorities, are public information. The classification of legal opinion in documents that are available under the API is determined by the purpose for which it was prepared. A legal opinion prepared for the public authority on the merits of initiating future proceedings in a particular civil case does not constitute public information for the purposes of Article 1 of the API. It was confirmed by the Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 16 June 2009 case file I OSK 89/09. An expertise that specifically relate to a given legislative proposal for which the legislative process continues, are deemed as public information. These documents relate to the facts, of such, is the legislative proposal submitted to the competent authority in the legislative procedure. It was confirmed by the Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 27 January 2012 case file I OSK 2130/11. If a disclosure of public information threatens the common or individual interests, there is the possibility to restrict the access to such information by refusing its disclousure by an administrative decision that should be based on the provisions of Article 16 of the API. The expertise prepared by the Polish Information Processing Society for the Ministry, associated with the formation by that authority of systems, and the preparation of examinations for persons applying for a certificate of qualification for the controllers and communication systems, satisfy the conditions of public information, because they concern the implementation of tasks by the public authority. If the the expertise concerned computerization and informatization of the public sphere and involved the expenditure of public funds, therefore it is public information, because it refers to the public affairs, which is the issue of computer software/programs in the implementation of public tasks, and how they are used and implemented, the implementation and impact of these tasks and information on public property, including property of the State Treasury.
There was also a specific issue of the expropriation of copyright for public purpose. Article 1 of the Polish Act on Authors Rights and Neighbouring Rights provides that the subject of copyright should be any manifestation of creative activity of individual nature, established in any form, irrespective of its value, purpose or form of expression (work). Opinions and expertise made by qualified persons or entities meet the statutory definition. According to Article 4 of the ARNR, the copyright should not apply to legislative acts and their official drafts, official documents, materials, logos and symbols. Expertises commissioned by the Ministry, are official documents within the meaning of the Article 4(2) of the ARNR. They are used as a servant in decision-making process of the executive authority and are not the subject of copyright. The Polish Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court agree that the official documents are materials that come from the office or other state institution or concerned official matters, or was the result of application of the official proceedings. As it was decided by the Supreme Court in its judgment of 26 September 2001 case file IV CKN 458/00, and by the Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 19 February 1997 case file I SA/Kr 1062/96. The effectiveness of social control and supervision over the information used on completion of assigned tasks of public authority correspond with such understanding of the relationship between the provisions of Article 1 of the API and Article of the ARNR. Such opinion was confirmed by the Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 27 January 2012 case file I OSK 2130/11. Hence, the definition of an official document, provided in Article 6(2) of the API does not provide a basis for restricting access to public information, defined in the Article 1(1) of the API, including the catalog of examples contained in Article 6(1) of the API.