27 September 2022
On 27 September, the Head of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, joined the Commissioner of Kosovo’s Information and Privacy Agency (IPA), Krenare Sogojeva-Dërmaku and the First Vice-Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Security and Defense Affairs, Enver Dugolli, in a conference organized by IPA on the importance and the challenges in the implementation of the Law on Access to Public Documents by the judiciary and prosecution offices.
“The right to access public documents belongs to everyone without distinction. There should not be discrimination, be it direct or indirect, as to which member of the public, of civil society or of media should receive public documents,” said Wigemark recalling the principle of public trials.
The Head of EULEX also mentioned the three elements behind this fundamental issue: transparency, accountability and proactivity: “Transparency means that the court hearings, with some limited exceptions, are open to the public. This kind of access to main trials enables the public and the media to understand how justice is delivered in court and by the judiciary,” Wigemark explained, adding that: ”Given the importance of the rule of law in a democratic society, the police, the prosecution and the courts must account for their actions and be open to public scrutiny, while public institutions should proactively publish any public documents, including judgments of trials, in line with the applicable legislation.”
The Prosecutor from the Office of the Chief Prosecutor, Agron Qalaj, highlighted the commitment to being transparent while also presenting the challenges posed by the need to respect confidentiality and the interests of all parties of the proceedings.
Representatives from the media also joined the debate recalling the importance of increased transparency but also of data protection for all citizens.
The conference was organized during the Freedom of Information Week titled “Now even easier”, which revolves around the 28th of September- the International Day for Universal Access to Information, and it was supported by the OSCE Office in Kosovo.
Speech of the Head of Mission
I am very happy to be here today to take part in this important discussion on the implementation of the Law on Access to Public documents by the judiciary and the prosecutor’s offices and the challenges faced by these institutions and by Kosovo citizens in exercising their rights.
Three words comes to mind that are closely connected with the notion of access to public documents: transparency, accountability, and proactivity.
We use these terms so often in official statements that they may sound like a cliché. However, it is undisputable that, when public institutions are accessible, transparent and accountable, the trust of citizens increases. When they are not transparent, accountable and proactive, we all know what the results are, anywhere in the world. A high degree of trust also leads to more legitimacy in the eyes of citizens. All these things are connected.
Let me briefly examine these three terms.
First of all, transparency. Everyone here, I believe, is familiar with the principle of public trials. Meaning that all court hearings, with limited exceptions, are open to the public. This kind of access to main trials in Kosovo enables the public and the media to understand how justice is delivered by the courts and by the judiciary. Indeed, we cannot expect people to trust what they don’t see, or they cannot understand. That’s also why journalists and members of the public in general in Kosovo have the right to attend all main trials and see and hear with their own eyes and ears how justice is delivered. This is also essential to ensure that every defendant’ s trial is subject to public scrutiny.
Linked to the transparency is accountability, and given the importance of the rule of law in any democratic society, the police, the prosecution and the courts must account for their actions and be open to public scrutiny. This is nothing to fear.
To be proactive on the other hand, means that public institutions should proactively publish any public documents, irrespective of a person’s request for access, or if anybody is asking for, they should simply be available. This is particularly important for judicial institutions. All institutions should proactively publish any public documents, including judgments of trials, in line with the applicable legislation, which goes beyond, by the way, the law that we are discussing today.
One more element we should also pay attention to, and never overlook, is that the right to access public documents belongs to everyone without distinction. There should be no discrimination, be it direct or indirect, as to whom, which member of the public, member of the civil society, which media outlet should receive the public documents and which should not receive it. In other words: there should not be selective sharing of public documents. I think we all know the importance of it.
I would also like to take the opportunity to appeal this morning to all the rule of law institutions, who are represented here but who are also not represented here, to ensure proactive access to public documents in all Kosovo official languages, for all persons and in a timely manner, especially when it comes to legal cases generating a significant public interest. The public should not have to wait for weeks or months, or even longer, for access. Again, this is the only way to increase public confidence in the judiciary.
Finally let me thank the Information and Privacy Agency for the steps it has already undertaken with the leadership of Krenare Sogojeva-Dërmaku to ensure that the Law on Access to Public Documents is fully implemented, including by dealing with citizens’ complaints in this regard.
Thank you and I look forward to the interesting discussion!