Advances in Transparency and Right to Access Information in The Czech Republic
Evolution of the Interpretation of Contested Statutory Provisions
Purpose: The article examines the advances in the transparency of the Czech public administration since the 1990s. Transparency is subtly intertwined with accountability, promotes democracy, and helps to prevent misuse of power or other types of illegal acting. Thus, the right to access information must be interpreted broadly enough, yet there are other rights such as privacy or trade secrets which must be respected at the same time. The paper therefore explains the balance between those rights that has been achieved through years of court interpretation. It explores the advances in the courts’ views and the resulting improvements in the administrative practice, as well as the relationship between the right to information and accountability.
Design/methodology/approach: The author studies the crucial provisions of the Act on Free Access to Information. Based on an analysis of the interpretation by the Czech Supreme Administrative Court and the Czech Constitutional Court of the most questionable issues – such as the determination of which public institutions are considered obliged entities, the exemptions from the duty to provide information, remedies, and payments for complicated data searches – the paper shows the developments over the past 23 years. The paper also seeks to identify the relationship between the outcomes of the analysis, i.e. the confirmed advances, and the accountability od administrative bodies which should theoretically result therefrom.
Findings: The case law on the interpretation of individual legal provisions is rather favourable to a broad access to information, restricting the exemptions and other obstacles. However, the article argues that in order to take full advantage of the gains in the area of free access to information brought about by the carefully argued case law and subsequent improvements of the obliged entities approach, the resulting accountability still needs to be elaborated.
Academic contribution to the field: The research contributes to administrative science by addressing the practical application of laws on transparency issues. It shows the importance of court support to an interpretation broad enough to balance other rights, such as the right to privacy. It provides a background for further research of the consequences, i.e., accountability.
Originality/significance/value: An overview of the evolution of court decisions interpreting controversial legal provisions is provided. The gaps between the advances in the implementation of the principle of transparency and the theoretically resulting accountability are identified.
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