Constitutional Court ruled in favour of transparency

Two years ago we brought an action in order to make the report on the management of the State Opera in the previous election term public. We were convinced that if the ministerial commissioner had investigated from public funds for two years and revealed the misuse of billions of Hungarian forints, then the public has the right to know the details.

Our requests were refused by the ministry, and we did not understand why the present government would want to keep the report about the “previous 8 years” (referring to the 2002-2006 and the 2006-2010 terms of the MSZP party) so much in secret. But then our requests were dismissed by the courts, in the court of first and second instance, too. After all that, we started a proceeding in the Constitutional Court, which finally (with a narrow majority, and with the mostly incomprehensible concurring opinions of those judges who are loyal to the government) struck down the dismissive decisions of the courts – plus, with this decision the Court strengthened the guarantees of the freedom of information in general.

Why is this decision important?

These reports were paupers of the freedom of information so far: according to the case-law of the courts, for 10 years the data custodian, the state was allowed to decide on its own, whether it wanted to make these data public or not. We believed that the reports of the KEHI (Government Control Office) or other agencies of the state should be public as soon as they are ready. The public is entitled to know what kind of abuses the state agencies committed, what proved the existence of these abuses, and finally, that did any kind of procedure follow the examination of these abuses? Publicity enhances the authorities’ quality of the activity, e.g. KEHI must take into consideration that the final conclusions of its examination are public. Obviously, its activity will be more established, as it may have to be able to defend the conclusions and statements of the report in public.

At a more general level, the decision underlines that a court must examine not just formally but also in content in every case on the freedom of information, whether the refusal of the request for data was lawful. This can be important in cases on state-secrets, where the courts consistently refused to review the classification of the data. We are witnesses of those few moments when the Constitutional Court, instead of assisting to decrease it, is raising the level of protection of basic rights and liberties.

In sum, we are content with the decision, and not even the concurring opinions are able to fade our happiness. Although it was frightening to read the argumentation about the “normative invalidity” of the majority-decision (by Béla Pokol), or the lamentation on whether the request for one specific report was circumscribed enough (Egon Dienes-Oehm and Barnabás Lenkovics), we were more amused by László Salamon’s concurring opinion who (as we were in question) already feared the filing of excessive requests for data.

Either way, we honestly hope, that the Ministry of Human Resources does not want to canvass all the labyrinths of court-proceedings, and will voluntarily disclose the report on the management of the State Opera.

This article was published in Hungarian on 18 July 2013 here. The text was translated by atlatszo.hu volunteer Emese Szilágyi.