In 2017, the Right of Access to Public Sector Information Law of 2017 (184 (I) / 2017) was implemented in Cyprus and has been set in force, after a period of 3 years, on the 22/12/2020. Essentially, this Law gives the right to any natural or legal person the right of access to information held by a public authority in Cyprus. This Law is similar to the UK law known as Freedom of Information Act, however there are more restrictions in the Cypriot Law compared to the English one. The creation of this law arose out of the need for transparency and accountability to the citizens from the public sector.
This law provides that where another piece of legislation regulates a particular issue regarding provision of information, the L.184(I)/2017 will not apply. Furthermore, this Law will not apply where there is a European Union Law in place for a matter or where there is court order or judgment.
The above right of access to information does not exist in some cases.
These are when:
- The request for information concerns personal data;
- The applicant is the data subject or a third party to them. In this case, the provisions of the Personal Data Processing (Protection of the Person) Law of Cyprus, apply;
- The disclosure of information which are held by the Public Authority;
- It is regulated by any other special legislation on access to information;
- Is incompatible with obligations imposed by the European Union, or
- Would constitute or be punishable as an offense of contempt of court.
"Public Authority" term
Regarding which bodies "fall in" the meaning of the term "public authority" in Cyprus, these are:
- Any ministry, department, office, service, committee and authority of the public sector or of the wider public sector or any other administrative body;
- The House of Representatives and the Judicial Service;
- Any legal person governed by public law or a body of general interest established by law;
- Any local authority or body;
- Any council or authority established by law or by a local authority;
- Any legal person governed by private law which operates under the control of the State or is owned by the State as defined in Article 5;
- Any body or holder of office not already mentioned above, if the appointment is made: by the President of the Republic or the Council of Ministers, under the provisions of primary or secondary legislation and by any minister in his capacity as a minister.
Public Authority Responsibilities
With regard to the responsibilities of the Public Authority, it
is responsible to adopt and maintain a plan for the publication of
information from the beginning, ie the plan of publication, after
obtaining its approval by the Commissioner, as defined in Article
38 of this Law.
The publication plan is an important tool because it contains the categories of information that the public authority publishes or intends to publish, the ways in which the information of each category of information is published or intended to be published and whether the material is or intends to be available to the public free of charge or upon payment.
The application process
Initially, in order to be able to obtain this information, a legal or natural person must make a written request or request by e-mail to the competent authority in Cyprus which includes the following information:
- The name of the applicant;
- The contact address of the applicant;
- Description of the information requested.
It may also include in his/her application a statement of preference for one or more of the following ways of providing the requested information:
- A copy of the information in printed form or in any other form which is acceptable to the applicant;
- Providing a reasonable opportunity for the applicant to access the file containing the requested information;
- Summary of the information in printed form or in any other form acceptable to the applicant.
The competent authority shall not be obliged to provide access to the requested information when an application is abusive or manifestly unreasonable or if the public authority has previously addressed or granted access submitted by a person who subsequently submits an identical application before a reasonable period of time his application.
The public authority that received an application to provide access to information must address and process this application within a period of thirty (30) days from the date of receipt, unless a longer period is provided in the Regulations.
Also, within this period, the competent authority must notify the applicant in writing of the amount of fees payable by him for the completion of his application, which are set out in Regulations or in a special law.
If the cost to provide such information is deemed excessive the public authority is not obliged to provide the information. If the applicant does not pay the fees within three months from the day the public authority notified him of the amount to be paid then the authority is discharged from the obligation to provide that information.
If the applicant specifies in his application the desired way to obtain the requested information then the public authority will provide the information in that way if it is practically reasonable, taking into account the cost of providing the information in that way. Otherwise, the public authority decides that the manner specified by the applicant is not practically reasonable then it shall notify the applicant and provide the information in a manner that is reasonable.
The applicant has the right to be informed in writing or by e-mail by the public authority as to whether or not that authority has the information requested in his application and whether it is accessible.
However, there are some cases in which the public authority may reject the request for information by notifying the applicant of its decision to reject the application by stating the reasons why and based on what exceptions they relied.
These exceptions are absolute and information cannot be provided if any of the following applies:
- Information to which the applicant has access through other methods;
- Information related to or provided by security forces;
- Information contained in court/judicial records;
- Parliamentary information;
- Information provided subject to confidentiality.
In particular, information which may affect the protection of national security or information which may undermine the defense of democracy are also excluded.
The Commissioner's duties
The Information Commissioner of Cyprus has the general supervision for the implementation of the provisions of this Law.
In particular he/she is the person responsible for:
- Approval or rejection of publication plans or drafts of publication plans;
- Assesses the compliance of any public authority with the provisions of this Law and the codes of practice;
- Informs the public and may provide advice to any person regarding the application of the provisions of this Law and any other matters that fall within its competence under the provisions of this Law;
- Issues instructions regarding the uniform application of the provisions of the Law;
- Issues recommendations and suggestions to the public authorities and publishes them at his discretion;
- Decides on complaints submitted to him;
- Imposes administrative sanctions.
Complaints to the Commissioner
An applicant may file a complaint to the Commissioner, in a specified form, in case he considers that there has been a violation of the provisions of this law by a public authority in the provision of information. The Commissioner, in the course of examining such a complaint submitted to him, may call on the public authority to state its views on specific issues, and has the power to order interim measures to ensure access to the information to the applicant.
The Commissioner, after examining the complaint submitted, issues a decision which is binding. However, the applicant / complainant to whom the decision of the Commissioner was made, may file an objection against the decision within fourteen (14) days from the day of notification of the decision. Similarly, a public authority may, after being notified of the decision of the Commissioner ordering it to provide access to the information in its possession, may file an objection against it within fourteen (14) days, stating that it is not possible for the public authority to comply within the specified period to provide information or at any time for technical or financial reasons or because the information requested are excluded information or because the disclosure of the requested information seriously endangers the public interest.
Undoubtedly, this law is an important and useful tool in the hands of society and its citizens where it will facilitate access to useful and necessary information in several sectors and services. The implementation of the law ensures the strengthening of the Principles of Transparency and Accountability of the Public and Wider Public Sector and ensures equal treatment of citizens.
This law is a powerful tool to the citizens as it recognises their right to request and receive, under certain conditions, information held by the Public Authorities in order to control the Acts and Decisions of the Administrative bodies.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.