On 15 March, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) supported the organization of a workshop on the implementation of the Law on Access to Public Documents, which brought together 61 judges, prosecutors, Kosovo Police officers, and other representatives of rule-of-law institutions.
The workshop “Access to public documents held by the police and the justice institutions” was organized together with the Kosovo Information and Privacy Agency (IPA) and the Academy of Justice. It aimed at discussing in-depth the implementation of the Law on Access to Public Documents, analyzing the main barriers and challenges faced by rule-of-law institutions, and examining good practices.
In her opening remarks, the Commissioner of the Information and Privacy Agency, Krenare Sogojeva-Dërmaku, pointed out that granting access to public documents increases the credibility of public institutions: “The implementation of the Law on Access to Public Documents increases the trust to public institutions and at the same time enables citizens to exercise their right to be informed.”
Despite the significant improvements in access to public documents held by the justice institutions, the Commissioner added that the courts, the prosecution offices, the Kosovo Police and the police inspectorate need to proactively offer access to public documents, which is also their legal obligation. “Based on the statistics of the Information and Privacy Agency, the courts, prosecutor offices, Kosovo Police and the Police Inspectorate have demonstrated an increased institutional awareness in relation to access to public documents,” Sogojeva-Dërmaku said.
The Head of EULEX, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, explained that the right of access to public documents belongs to everyone without discrimination. “To ensure this right, institutions should be transparent, accountable, and proactive. When public institutions act in an accessible, transparent, and accountable manner, the trust of ordinary citizens -without doubt- increases. It is difficult for any citizen to make an informed choice or decision or engage meaningfully with the public institutions if they do not know what these public bodies are doing. This is why enabling access to public documents, in line with the existing legislation, is essential,” Wigemark said.
The Director of the Academy of Justice, Enver Fejzullahu, explained the commitment of the Academy in advancing an open discussion on such a relevant topic. “Our Academy of Justice is honoured and privileged to have the opportunity to exchange experiences and practices amongst institutions and experts with the sole aim of increasing accountability and of providing something we are legally mandated to provide,” Fejzullahu pointed out.
Gzim Shala, Programs’ Manager and Senior Legal Researcher at the Kosovo Law Institute, discussed the constitutional and legal standards of the law, focusing on the issue of denial of access related to classified documents due to issues of public safety and security.
Shala stressed the need to regulate the criteria to enable or reject access to public documents, in order to ensure the law is implemented in a correct way. “The best way to build public trust in institutions is institutional transparency. Although the requests for access to public documents may result in additional work, this reflects the public interest in monitoring institutions, a fact that increases institutional transparency,” said Shala.
Blerta Iberdemaj, Legal Officer and Monitor at BIRN presented some past cases were the right to access public documents had been violated. She also discussed the concept of public interest with the participants: “The access of citizens to public documents, as a fundamental right in democratic societies, implies respect for the principles of transparency and accountability. Considering the importance of the rule of law in every democratic society, the police, prosecution offices and courts should guarantee the enforcement of this right that contributes to added trust and legitimacy in the eyes of the citizens”.
Zoran Šimić from the Public Information and Communication Unit of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) explained the functioning of KSC’s Public Court Record, which allows access to around 4,000 public case-related records, such as arrest warrants, indictments, decisions, or motions.
The workshop ended with a presentation of the Executive Director of FOL Movement, Mexhide Demolli, who analyzed the legal obligations of public institutions to upload public documents on their websites, assessing the level of compliance of some rule-of-law institutions vis-à-vis these requirements and identifying the current areas of improvement. “Access to public documents is an important connection between the citizens and the public institutions, and, as such, it should be regularly maintained,” stressed Demolli.
The workshop was the second in a series of workshops aimed at increasing accountability and transparency of rule-of-law institutions. On 21 February, the same participants had attended the workshop: “Justice Vis-à-Vis Personal Data Protection”.