LEGAL DEFINING PECULIARITIES OF PUBLIC INFORMATION

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The article examines the features of legal definition of public information and investigates into the main features of this type of information. Conclusions about positive and negative concept of public information have been provided.

Keywords: public information, access to information, access to public information, steward of public information.

 

The fact that Ukraine is a sovereign, independent, social, and legal country has been officially declared at the highest state level. With an aim of proving the originality of this norm, interaction between civil society and public authority plays a crucial role. Implementation of this interaction means the opportunity for publicity or separate persons to get acquainted with the functioning of government agencies, particularly with the means of access to information that is in possession of certain bodies, institutions, and organizations. Any person has the right for information access, since according to the Article 5 of the Constitution of Ukraine, the only source of authority in Ukraine is its citizens. In this way, society is capable of controlling the public authority performance. The right to information access is one of the main human rights, and is the means of implementation of the majority of the other rights. Therefore, the topicality of the issue of defining issues of public information is extremely important in the life of any state. The reason is that availability of clear definition of public information enables every person to realize his or her right to information under the law.

The issue of peculiarities of legal defining of public information in its various aspects has been researched by N. Hnydiuk, R. Holovenko, Ya. Hontsiazh, M. Demkova, Ye. Zaharov, D. Kotliar, M. Latsyba, A. Marushchak, O. Nesterenko, I. Rapp, V. Rechytskyi, O, Severyn, M. Fihel, O. Khmara, T. Shevchenko, etc.

The aim of the research means the analysis of normative and legal acts in the sphere of public information access, and the study of peculiarities of legal defining of public information in particular.

Free access to information is the prerequisite of democratic development. Only aware society is capable of control of authority performance in order to force it serve public interests [3, p.5].

Constitution of Ukraine has secured the human right to freedom of information. Article 34 of the Constitution of Ukraine guarantees every person the right to freedom of speech, the right to freely gather, save, use, and spread information in an oral, written, or any other way, and according to personal choice [4]. The term ‘freedom of information’ embraces the entire group of rights and reedoms, as for the freedom of speech, freedom of press and other mass media, the right to get information of social value, the freedom of spreading the information through any other legal means. The freedom of information is guaranteed by prohibition of censorship. Meanwhile, the Constitution of Ukraine includes restrictions of freedom of information. The key restriction of freedom of information is prohibition of any propaganda and agitation that entail social, national, race, religious hatred and opponency, and propaganda of a social, race, national, religious or language advantage [1, с.20].

The right of a person to information access, obtaining of this information, spreading of information, freedom of speech is underlined by the norms of international law. The fundamental act in international law is General Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of which claims that each person has the right to freedom of beliefs and their free expression. This right includes the freedom to freely adhere to own beliefs and the freedom to search, obtain, and spread information and ideas via any means and without dependence on national borders [2]. According to the Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, every person has the right to freedom of expression of beliefs. This right incorporates the freedom to adhere to personal beliefs, obtain and convey information and ideas without interference of public authorities and without dependence on borders [9]. Every human being has the right to free expression of his or her belief; this right involves the freedom to search, obtain, and spread any information and ideas, without dependence on national borders, in an oral, written, printing manner, or other artistic forms of expression or other ways chosen personally [7].

An important document in the sphere of public information access is the European Council Recommendations regarding the access to official documents. It highlights the general principles of guaranteeing the right to access to official documents under the disposition of public authorities for any person upon his or her request by member states. This principle has to be applied without any discrimination including the feature of state attribute [12]. Thus, it is clear that the right of a person to information access is implied at the international and the highest national level in the text of the Constitution of Ukraine. The state information policy of Ukraine is based on the principle of openness and accessibility of information. Under the law of Ukraine “About Information”, one of the key directions is providing of openness and transparence of performance of public authority representatives [10].

It is necessary to define and determine what kind of information can belong to the public one. The term ‘public information’ is defined at the legislative level in the law of Ukraine “About the access to public information”. This term is the key category of the Law since the latter one determines the technique of public information access. This term is new for Ukrainian legislation on the contrary to the countries of custom democracies and Eastern Europe where it is generally accepted (in some of these countries, for example, in Slovenia, Bulgaria, Poland, Estonia, the term ‘public information’ is also included into the titles of laws that set the technique of implementation of the right to information access). The main aim of implementation of this new term into the Ukrainian legislation is the necessity to embrace various information available at all the public authority bodies, and socially important information that is available at other persons [5, p.42].

Public information is the reflected and documented by any means on any medium information obtained or created in the process of performance of duties by public authority representatives stipulated by current legislation, or the information possessed by public authority representatives or any other disposer of public information [8].

Having analyzed the definition of public information, stipulated by the law of Ukraine “About the Access to Public Information” (further – Law), the Plenum of the Higher Administrative Court of Ukraine in its Decree has singled such features of public information as the completed information product obtained or created in the process of performance by public authority representatives of their duties stipulated by the current legislation, the information reflected or documented in advance by any means and on any medium. Such information is in possession of public authority representatives or other disposers of public information. Information cannot be public if it is created by a public authority representative not during their duties performance. Information cannot be public if it is not created by a public authority representative [11]. The next point of the Decree of the Plenum of the Higher Administrative Court of Ukraine claims that in case of absence of at least one of the above-mentioned features in the information, such information cannot be called public [11].

An important characteristic of public information is its prior recording. By this, it is meant that the Law regulates the relations regarding information that is already available, and consequently, after obtaining a request, there is no necessity to create this information. The above-described feature has been revealed in judicial practice. Kharkiv Appellate Administrative Court dealt with the case ‘PIRS, LLC v. State Tax Inspection in Dzerdzhynsk district of Karkiv’ about rendering unlawful the refusal to organize the video recording of the work of the objection commission regarding the act of inspection or allowing the claimant to organize video recording by himself. The Appellate Administrative Court did not change the appealed judgment of the lower court about the rejection of a claim regarding the evidence of appellate complaint on restriction of the right to public information access. The Appellate Administrative Court claimed that the above-mentioned definition of the term ‘public information’ highlights its obtaining or creation by a certain subject. The body of judges supposes that public information in this case can be created only after completion of work of the commission [13].

Public information can be expressed textually, numerically, graphically or verbally. It can be recorded on any material (not only paperback) information medium. These can be electronic media as for magnetic media (audio cassette, video cassette, etc.). magnetic disk, perforating media – perfocard, perfostripe, optical media – CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, CD-MOs, etc.  Any other media also refer under the legality of this Law. Public information can be recorded on digital, electronic, and other devices that belong to a public authority representative (for example, digital image located on hard disk of a computer, camera, or cell phone) [5, с.45].

The next feature of public information is creation, obtaining or possession of this information by public authority representatives during performance of their duties, or being possessed by the other disposers of public information. Information is public when it is possessed by such disposers as business entity that have information about environmental conditions,  quality of food and household items, accidents, catastrophes, dangerous natural events that have happened or may happen and threaten health and safety of citizens, information of social interest, persons that perform delegated duties of public authority representatives under the law or a contract including providing the educational, health, social or other state services. These concern the information connected with performance of their duties, public authority bodies, other public bodies, local governments, public bodies of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and other subjects that fulfill authoritative governmental functions according to the legislation, and judgments of which have to be obligatorily enforced. The other aspects of concern include business entities dominating the market or possessing special or exclusive rights, or are natural monopolies, information about supply of goods, services and their prices, legal persons financed by state and local budgets, budget of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea budget, and the information about budget funds usage [6, с.10].

Having determined the disposers of public information, the other feature has to be highlighted. By this, we mean the idea that respective subjects obtain and create this information as a result of the performance of their duties stipulated by current legislation. To prove this, judicial practice may be used. Donetsk Appellate Administrative Court in the case PERSON_4 v. Executive Committee of Donetsk City Council and Chief Administration of City Building and Architecture and Administration of Donetsk  State Agency of Land Resources about rendering the actions or omissions of the subjects of public authority representatives unlawful and imposing committing certain actions. The reason for the claim was the request of the claimant to give him information by the respondents about all the lands of municipal property not given for usage within the borders of several districts of Donetsk that were not given for usage and can be used for building for implementation by the claimant the right to free obtaining of property for building and servicing of a dwelling house. Public authorities rejected to provide him with public information. The panel of judges agrees with the decision of the lower court about publicity of the information on availability of lands that can be used for building. Under the law of Ukraine “About Regulation of Urban Building Activity”, the above-mentioned information has to be created in the process of performance by public authority representatives of their duties, stipulated by the current legislation. That is why, this kind of information and legal relations connected with its spreading, publicizing, providing is regulated by the norms of the law of Ukraine “About Access to Public Information” [14].

It is crucial to pay attention to the fact that public information is defined as all the information being available at the public authorities and at the disposers, stipulated by the Law. In other words, the content of public information also incorporates the information of restricted access. Therefore, according to the Law, the definition of ‘public’ does not mean transparency and availability, but claims that this information is possessed by public subjects.

To conclude with, we have researched and analyzed a very important topic for the life of our country since the techniques of public information access enables every person to realize his or her right to information access. We have also defined public information, having pointed that public information is the information created or obtained by a public authority representative during performance of his or her duties, and the information possessed by the disposer. This definition implies the fact that the respective disposer is not obliged to create information since it already is in his actual possession. It is essential to take into account the fact that public information is all the information available at public authorities and disposers, stipulated by the Law. On other words, the content of public information includes the restricted access information. Thus, the Law implies that the definition of ‘public’ does not mean transparent or available, but highlights that this information is possessed by public objects.

 

References:

1. Demkova M.S. Access to information and electronic governing / М.S. Demkova, М. V. Fihel. – К.: Fact, 2004. – 336 p.

2. General Declaration on Human Rights from12.1948 // Official Newsletter of Ukraine. – 2008. – №93. – p. 3103.

3. Zaharov Ye. Freedom of information in Ukraine. Improvement of legislation and practice. / Ye. Zaharov, О. Nesterenko, І. Rapp, О. Severyn. – Kharkiv: Human Rights, 2009. – 180 p.

4. Constitution of Ukraine from06.1996 р. // The Supreme Council of Ukraine Journal. – 1996. – №30. – p.141.

5. Kotliar D. Academic and practical commentary to the Law of Ukraine “About Access to Public Information” / Kotliar D., Shevchenko Т., Nesterenko О., Holovenko R. – Kyiv, 2012 – 335 p.

6. Latsyba М.V. Methodological recommendations about practical implementation of the Law of Ukraine “About Access to Public Information” / М. V. Latsyba, О. S. Khmara, V. V. Andrusiv. – К.: Agency «Ukraine», 2012. – 164 p.

7. International Pact about Civil and Political Rights from 12.1966 : Available at : http://zakon2.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/995_043

8. About Access to Public Information: Law of Ukraine from 01.2011. // The Supreme Council of Ukraine Journal. – 2011. – № 32. – p. 314.

9. About Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: European Council Convention from 11.1950 // Official Newsletter of Ukraine. – 1998. – № 13. – p. 270.

10. About Information: Law of Ukraine from10.1992 р. // The Supreme Council of Ukraine Journal. – 1992. – № 48. – p. 650.

11. About Practice of Application by Administrative Courts of the Prescriptions of the Law of Ukraine “About Access to Public Information” from January 13, 2011 № 2939-VI: Decree of the Plenum of the Higher Administrative Court of Ukraine №11 from September 30, 2013. Available at: http://zakonrada.gov.ua/laws/show/v0011760-13.

12. European Council Recommendations “About Access to Official Documents” from February 21, 2002. Available at: http://zakon4.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/994_a33.

13. Case № 2а-11389/11/2070 // Kharkiv Appellate Administrative Available at: http://reyestr.court.gov.ua/Review/22051656.

14. Case №2а-6127/11/0508 // Donetsk Appellate Administrative Available at:  http://reyestr.court.gov.ua/Review/22546975.

 

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