On January 16th, 2020 Tbilisi Court of Appeals rendered a decision on the case of the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) against LEPL National Archive of Georgia (National Archive). The National Archive was once again directed to disclose the public information requested by IDFI in June 2018. Namely, the number of applicants refused to access archival documents and relevant legal bases of the refusals. Earlier, Tbilisi City Court directed the National Archive to disclose the information. The National Archive refused to follow the court order and appealed the decision, however, the appeal was unsuccessful.
Directly after the main hearing, the Court of Appeals announced the final decision without further postponing the case, stated that the appeal of the National Archive was unsubstantiated and denied it.
During the dispute, IDFI was arguing that the appeal of the National Archive failed to meet the requirements set by the Administrative and Civil Procedures Codes of Georgia. Precisely, in the section of the appeal which had to include factual inaccuracies of the first instance court decision, the National Archive did not question any of the factual circumstances. In addition, the entity failed to give reasons for arguing that the decision of the first instance court was unjustified and contradicted with applicable legislation.
The National Archive pleaded that it was impossible to disclose the requested information since the entity did not process, create or keep the data. However, representatives of the National Archive also confirmed that a number of administrative decisions refusing applicants to access archival funds were kept at the National Archive.
The Court Deliberation
In its decision, the Court of Appeals made an emphasis on Article 18.2 of the Constitution and stressed the importance of freedom of expression and access to information. The court discussed the limitation of the right, as foreseen by the Constitution and the General Administrative Code of Georgia and stated that the information requested by IDFI did not include state or commercial secrecy, nor personal data. Thus the requested information constituted open public information, the disclosure of which was the obligation of the National Archive.
The court referred to the Law on National Archival Funds and National Archives and taking into consideration the role of the National Archive, gave particular importance to the disclosure of the information, on the number of applicants refused to be granted access to archival funds. the court stated that:
„The information requested by the applicant (IDFI) does not include state or commercial secrecy and is not linked to disclosing personal data...on the other hand the argument of the opposing party (The National Archive) that the information kept at the entity is of such insubstantial volume that it does not reflect the full picture of everyday communication/consultation with interested parties, does not exclude the obligation of the administrative body to disclose the information which is kept at the entity in line with the applicable legislation.“
We call on the National Archive to fully internalize its role in a democratic society, abide by the Court decision and provide us with the information on the number of cases when applicants were refused access to archival documents, without further delays.
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