Access to public information requires formalities from the institutions

September 7, 2023 The Provincial Administrative Court in Poznań has issued a judgment on a complaint concerning the inaction of the headmaster of one of the local schools. The judgment is an important guideline for an unusually large group of entities obliged to make public information available. Regardless of the legitimacy of the applicant’s claim, the correctness of the proceedings has an impact on the fundamental rights of the citizen – including the right to a court.

The applicant submitted a request to the head of the local primary school, in which he demanded access to information about teachers who are in further education, training or performing social tasks. There was no doubt that the school was obliged to make the information available to the public and the information covered by the request was subject to disclosure. However, the school principal considered that the information needed to be processed and therefore asked the applicant to demonstrate why it was particularly important for the public interest. The applicant did not consider the summons to be an appropriate handling of the matter and later filed a complaint with the Provincial Administrative Court against the director’s inaction. The court agreed with the applicant.

The court hearing the case held that information about the school, including its organisation, subject of activity, competences and assets, constitutes public information. In accordance with Article Article 6(1) 3a of the Teacher’s Charter, teachers are obliged to improve their professional skills.

However, the Director’s action had to be assessed in the context of the entire procedure for providing information – since the applicant did not respond to the request on time, it was the Director’s duty to issue an administrative decision refusing to provide information. As the Court of First Instance emphasised, the mere sending of a simple letter [wezwania] to the applicant cannot be regarded as ‘settling the matter’ within the meaning of the law. It is only in the statement of reasons for a decision taken in accordance with Article 16(16) 1 of the Act on the Processing of Information, the Director should consider and indicate in detail and exhaustively why, in his or her opinion, the requested information is of a processed nature, taking into account the specificity of the specific case.

The applicant’s inaction may not imply the director’s inaction – a detailed justification for the decision allows the party to become familiar with the position of the obliged entity and, if it is not divided, to protect its own interests by subjecting the decision to instance review and then to administrative court review. The Director did not issue a decision – in the opinion of the Court, he thus violated the provision of Art. Article 3(1) 1(1) of the Act on the Freedom of Information and remained inactive.

The issuance of an administrative decision is a particularly important duty of the institution, as its content contains appropriate instructions, the possibility of challenging the negative position. Failure to provide such information to the applicant may (also unintentionally) limit the applicant’s knowledge of the legal means guaranteed by the Constitution to protect his or her interest in administrative proceedings.