Guidance of the Information Commissioner of the Republic of Croatia
Public authorities, in accordance with the instructions and measures at national, regional and local level related to the disease transmission route COVID-19, have adapted their business to the new circumstances.
Although the COVID-19 virus pandemic and damage to buildings due to the Zagreb earthquake caused difficulties for public authorities in their work, the full application of the Right of Access to Information Act (hereinafter: the Act) should be ensured in these special circumstances as well.
Therefore, we point out the obligation that requests on access to information and re-use of information be received and resolved in accordance with legal deadlines.
Extending the deadlines for deciding on requests for an additional 15 days will continue to be used in accordance with the reasons prescribed by the Law, but only when it is significantly difficult to secure complete and accurate information asked in the request for access to information.
It should be noted that, in relation to desirable social distance and restrictions on movement, both users and public authorities should consider available ways of accessing information and prefer the possibility of delivering information by mail, providing copies or otherwise appropriate for exercising the right of access to information.
The implementation of Article 11 of the Act, which prescribes the conduct of public consultation in the process of preparation of acts, the pandemic of the COVID – 19 virus and the provision of assistance to the vulnerable and to the economy, that is, the remediation of earthquake damage, certainly require urgency and, in many cases, urgent adoption of acts. The Act stipulates the conduct of a public consultation of 30 days as a rule, and by its stipulation also leaves the possibility of a shortened consultation time in urgent and justified cases. Even in these particular circumstances, there is no legal basis for not applying the institute of public consultation.
Shortening the timeframe for public consultation solely in urgent and justified reasons, as an exception to the rule of public authorities, should be explained. In these, special circumstances, the full implementation of consultation as a rule should be retained as much as possible, especially when adopting key regulations affecting users’ interests (for example, such as the law on earthquake damage, where it is necessary to discuss in detail all aspects of the proposed solutions with all stakeholders, and especially the expert public).
Therefore, the Information Commissioner warns of the need for consistent application of the Act, since the current legislative framework ensures the right to access and reuse information and to involve users in the creation of regulations in these, special circumstances, as well.