The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU, www.tasz.hu ) lost the first round of a landmark Freedom of Information case decided by the Budapest Court on Monday, the 24th of January, 2004. In November, 2004, the HCLU appealed this decision to the Hungarian Constitutional Court, from which it is still awaiting a decision. HCLU also requested that the Budapest Court release the petition of Csaba Hende, Member of the Parliament, in order to shed further light on the government’s involvement in the Court’s decision making process. The Constitutional Court refused to release this petition. HCLU responded by filing a Freedom of Information case with the Budapest Court.
The Budapest Court stated on January 24, 2005 that the Constitutional Court cannot be forced to release the petition because the petition is not considered to be “information”. On some of the other relevant points of law the Budapest Court accepted HCLU’s arguments, making it clear that the Freedom of Information Act does apply to the Constitutional Court. However, the fundamental question of what information should be considered “Public Interest Data” (the terminology used in the Hungarian Freedom of Information Act) remains unresolved by the decision of the Budapest Court.
HCLU will continue to push forward with this case and will soon be filing an appeal with the second level Court. If the decision of the first level Court is not modified by the this appeal many government documents, such as contracts and other financial documents, will likely remain inaccessible for the general public. Such secrecy of information goes against previous statements by Hungarian courts and the Hungarian Data Protection Ombudsman indicating that such documents should be treated as Public Interest Data.
HCLU still has a clear legal and moral point of view on the case: any petition by a Member of Parliament recommending modifications to the Criminal Code (in this particular case the MP filed his petition against some paragraphs of the Criminal Code) is relevant to every citizen and needs to be treated as Public Interest Data. Citizens have a right to know about all changes to the law that may affect them!