Freedom of Information Day - September 28th

For the occasion, we have gathered a few significant freedom of information (FOI) lawsuits from the past year.

Wins:

1. Salaries of state owned company executives

The HCLU represented a daily newspaper and won the lawsuit against the Hungarian Postal Services, the Hungarian Power Companies Ltd., the Szerencsjáték Ltd., the Hungarian State Holding Company and the Hungarian State Railways Ltd. This was the first court decision which stated that executives of state owned companies are assigned public tasks, therefore the salaries they receive for these tasks are also public. Quite humorous arguments were heard during the court hearings. For instance: the executive director of the Hungarian Power Companies does not perform public tasks, as he himself does not provide electricity.
Results of the lawsuit point far: In April, the Hungarian State Holding Company disclosed the salaries of 42 state owned company executives and on September 15th, regulation was passed on making public salaries of majority state owned company executives through the internet. 


2. Victory at the European Court of Human Rights

Despite the solidarity between Hungarian judiciaries and the Constitutional Court, after 5 years of legal battles, the HCLU prevailed at the European Court of Human Rights. Previously, the HCLU lost the lawsuit on all legal levels in Hungary. The lawsuit was initiated because the HCLU’s request to gain access to the draft of a MP on the annulment of criminal regulation concerning drugs was denied. In an unequaled ruling and for the first time in the practices of the European Court of Human Rights, the court interpreted Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Freedom of expression and withholding data of public interest was deemed as unlawful restriction on the right to expression. The judgment does not mean that from now on withholding public interest data will automatically be considered an infringement of the Convention, however the ruling did set a precedent and from now on it will be worth taking cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

3. Gripen deal worth 190 billion Hungarian forints

Our leaders deemed the acquisition of Gripen fighter jets the deal of the century. We didn’t just acquire modern fighting jets, but our wise statesmen were also able to convince the Swedish suckers to invest the whole purchase price into Hungarian offset. However, the blissful happiness was overshadowed by the curiosity of a journalist, who wanted to find out which companies would benefit from the capital injection. The Ministry of Economics, citing trade secrets did not convince the courts. Complications kicked in after the ruling, as the Ministry was still unwilling to make the data accessible. At the end - through the HCLU’s online campaign – approximately 1000 citizens pressured the ministry into fulfilling the court’s order. From the disclosed data, it became clear that only Hungarian subsidiary firms of Swedish mammuth companies received offsets.

Loses:

1. Lawsuits against the Centrum Parking Company

The Capitol Court of Hungary has continuously dismissed lawsuits initiated against the Centrum Parking Company in order to gain public access to its financial data. The association - represented by the HCLU - requested data on personnel costs, contracts and profits. We requested copies of all contracts which involved payment exceeding 1 million Hungarian forints. According to the court, this request wasn’t precise enough, since 2 million and 3 million forints are also more than 1 million forints. The court emphasized, that it does not debate the right of the public to gain access to data of public interest. Considering this, it is especially surprising that the court sabotaged the data request.

2. Re-regulation of state secrets stalling

In Hungary, instead of the handler of data, it is still the journalist who is held responsible by the Prosecutor’s Office in case a state secret is published. There is still no opportunity for effective judicial re-examination on the need for classification. Luckily – during a round-table discussion organized by the HCLU - the MPs also realized the untenable situation. Considering the professionals being in agreement, it is especially sad, that due to personal and political conflicts, the law-making procedure has stalled, even though the draft submitted to the Parliament included advances in many territories regarding classified data. 
 
3. Real Estate fund secrets 

In November 2008, the Hungarian Financial Supervisory Authority (HFSA) suspended access to public deposits, which caused great loses to minor investors. A private individual wanted to find out on what grounds did the HFSA make its decision, and what studies were conducted prior to their decision. Surprisingly, the court dismissed the request. Their reason was that the plaintiff did not state exactly which documents he would like to gain access to. This is a unique understanding of the law, as it expects citizens to name the exact document in the HFSA’s filing system. Evidently, this is an unrealistic expectation, which downplays the Constitutional right to freedom of information.

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