New Constitution to Specify Grounds for Restricting Access to Public Information
The Parliament of Georgia passed today with 115 votes on its second reading amendments to the newly-adopted constitution.
In addition to changes introduced in the first reading
, today’s bill contains amendments to article 18 of the new constitution, which regulates issues of access to public information and defines grounds for denying public information requests.
According to the new constitution, which was adopted on September 26 and which is to come to force following the next presidential election in 2018, access to public information and official documents will be restricted only if they contain state, professional, commercial or personal secrets.
Under today’s modifications, however, access to public information and official documents may be restrained if they contain commercial or professional secrets, or if they are recognized as a state secret on the grounds that “they are necessary in a democratic society for ensuring national security or public safety, or interests of legal proceedings.”
The proposal on amending the respective constitutional clause was first voiced by the Ministry of Justice, the wording of which, broadened the scope of restrictions through listing additional grounds for denying access to public information. The ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia lawmakers dismissed the initiative then and approved the constitutional amendments without changing the respective clause.
The “compromise version” of the bill, which was approved at today’s sitting, was agreed through consultations between the Parliament and the Justice Ministry on December 14.
The new initiative and its hasty approval was criticized by the parliamentary opposition and the civil society organizations, who argued the initial wording of article 18 was agreed through consensus and none of the stakeholders, including the Venice Commission, had stressed the need for respective amendments
Some ruling party members spoke against the bill as well, with Tamar Chugoshvili, the Parliament’s first vice speaker, saying
at the legal issues committee hearing on December 15 that “excess transparency has never caused a problem in the country, what created problems was excess closure.” “I would like to request not to adopt the amendments at this stage: we assumed the chairmanship of the Open Government Partnership and we should serve as a role model in terms of transparency and access to information for other countries,” she added.
On December 15, a group of civil society organizations released a statement
emphasizing that the proposal “is not well-prepared, is unjustified and does not serve the purpose of strengthening constitutional standards and institutions.”
The third and final reading on constitutional amendments will be held during the spring session in 2018.
The new constitution will enter into force following the next presidential election in 2018.