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    • Important Victory of Civil Society in Defending the Right to Free Access to Information

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    • Date: 04 July 2019

      Civil society organizations and the media have the opportunity to file requests for misdemeanour proceedings in cases where their right to free access to information of public importance has been violated as a legal entity, the Misdemeanour Court of Appeal ruled. With this interpretation, the dilemma was solved that caused the misdemeanour courts to reject dozens of requests by civil society organizations across Serbia.

      At the Second Session of All Judges of the Misdemeanour Court of Appeal, held on 1 July 2019, the following legal views were adopted:

      “Citizens' associations and, in general, legal persons as requesters of information are always empowered to file a request for misdemeanour proceedings under the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance and are not conditioned on proving the property of the injured party within the meaning of Article 126, paragraph 1 of the Misdemeanours Act. "

      The previous practice  of misdemeanour courts in this area has been uneven. The law authorizes the injured party to initiate misdemeanour proceedings, but in practice the dilemma has arisen as to whether the injured party can also be a legal person and whether he or she must prove that his / her property right has been violated or compromised. By setting this condition, some misdemeanour courts rejected the right of civil society organizations to initiate misdemeanour proceedings. The most misdemeanour decisions were rejected by the Misdemeanour Court in Belgrade, whose decisions were, as a rule, upheld by the Misdemeanour Court of Appeal. On the other hand, the Misdemeanour Appellate Court in Novi Sad has taken the opposite view in several cases and concluded that legal persons have the status of injured party on the basis of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance.

      This view is also in line with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which, in the judgment of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights v. Serbia in 2013, recognized the active procedural legitimacy of a civil society organization whose right to information was violated. The Strasbourg court took the view that civil society organizations involved in matters of public interest played a "role as a public watchdog of similar importance as the press".

      The Environmental Association "To Save Vojvodina”, the Odzak Environmental Movement and the Rule of Law Centre from Belgrade fought for this positive, authoritative interpretation of the law for three years. These organizations were denied dozens of petitions for misdemeanour proceedings filed against responsible persons in the authorities, on the grounds that the request was filed by an unauthorized applicant.

      Civil society organizations and the media are now able to apply for misdemeanour proceedings in cases where they have been violated the right of free access to information of public importance, referring to the legal understanding adopted by the Misdemeanour Court of Appeal on 1 July 2019.

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