Right to Freedom of Expression, Association and Religion

V. Access to Information

In 2014, the Parliamentary Ombudspersons, in response to an increase in complaints submitted, started being more active in the defence of the right of journalists to access public interest information held by state or municipal institutions.[1] Journalists complained that they are refused access to public meetings of municipal committees, or that municipal administrations set rules that severely limit journalists' access to the premises or filming opportunities, in the absence of any legitimate grounds for doing so.

After evaluating the situation in the municipalities and in state institutions, the Ombudsperson addressed the Ministry of Culture, recommending that a uniform procedure for the provision of information to the media be prepared, which would be consistent with the Law on Provision of Information to the Public and the Law on the Right to Obtain Information from State and Municipal Institutions, and would apply to all municipalities.

While investigating complaints about access to information, the Ombudsperson also drew attention to the unjustified restrictions on the access to information concerning the use of public funds. One investigation found that the Panevėžys City Municipality Administration refused to furnish a copy of its peace settlement with a contractor, "Panevėžio keliai", for the discontinued street construction works, justifying its decision by the need to keep commercial secrets.[2] The Ombudsperson found that the commercial provisions of the settlement cannot have higher power than the law, while the limitation of information about the use of EU or other public funds under the cover of commercial secrets is unjustified and in any case against the public interest.

The Ombudsperson referred to the case law of the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania, which in 2012 had indicated that an interpretation of the law where a public administration entity may designate any information as a commercial secret via a civil agreement would be inconsistent with the nature of the functions of public administration entities, since even the most trivial of information could then be refused, unjustifiably allowing the entity in question to abuse these instruments of civil law.[3]

The commercial provisions of the settlement cannot have higher power than the law, while the limitation of information about the use of EU or other public funds under the cover of commercial secrets is unjustified and in any case against the public interest.

It should be noted that the exceptions to the provision of information contained in Lithuanian law are too broad and abstractly worded, which allows for their abuse.[4] In addition, the general legal regime and institutional practice concerning access to information still favours the protection of information as opposed to the public's right to know, even if the information in question is clearly in the public interest.[5] The Obligation to disclose information in the overriding public interest is provided for in the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents, ratified by Lithuania in 2012.[6]

Findings and Recommendations 

  • It is necessary to carry out a detailed analysis of the legislation concerning the right to information, as well as its implementation in practice, assessing its compliance with global access to information principles, international access to information security standards and the needs of society.
  • With reference to the results of the assessment, it is recommended to draft amendments to the law, together with accompanying recommendations to state institutions, that are under a duty to provide information to individuals.
  • It is necessary to abolish the broad and abstract exceptions to the provision of information found in the Law on the Right to Obtain Information from State and Municipal Institutions, and to provide a list of narrow exceptions.
  • It is recommended to enshrine the overriding public interest principle in the Law on Provision of Information to the Public, the Law on the Right to Obtain Information from State and Municipal Institutions and other legislation regulating the right to access information from state institutions.

[1] Seimas Ombudsmen's Office, "Seimas Ombudsmen Raimondas Šukys proposes protecting journalists' constitutional right of access to information", 11 July 2014, http://www.lrski.lt/lt/naujienos/207-seimo-kontrolierius-raimondas-sukys-siulo-ginti-konstitucine-zurnalistu-teise-gauti-informacija.html; "Seimas Ombudsmen are convinced: journalists must be able to exercise their duty to receive and publicize information", 30 September 2014, http://www.lrski.lt/lt/naujienos/225-seimo-kontrolieriai-isitikine-zurnalisto-pareiga-gauti-ir-viesinti-informacija-turi-buti-uztikrinama.html

[2] "Seimas Ombudsman: Panevėžys City municipality unreasonably refused to provide information", 9 October 2014, http://www.lrski.lt/lt/naujienos/233-seimo-kontrolierius-panevezio-miesto-savivaldybe-nepagristai-neteike-informacijos.html

[3] 8 June 2012 ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania in administrative proceedings No. A662-1612/2012

[4] Human Rights Monitoring Institute, "The Right of Access to Information in Lithuania: Challenges and Opportunities", 2014, http://www.hrmi.lt/uploaded/Documents/Teise_gauti_informacija_ZTSI_2014.pdf

[5] Human Rights Monitoring Institute, "The Right of Access to Information in Lithuania: Challenges and Opportunities", 2014, http://www.hrmi.lt/uploaded/Documents/Teise_gauti_informacija_ZTSI_2014.pdf

[6] Council of Europe, "Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents", 2009, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=421456