High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has not accepted a recommendation from the Ombudsmen Office for Human Rights in BiH to disclose assets of two prosecutors to a reporter from N1 TV.
Milan Tegeltija, HJPC’s chairman, said that they had received similar requests and recommendations from the Ombudsmen before but the Council invariably decided that this was against the law and in keeping with the previous decisions, the Council wanted to be consistent.
„“We all agree that we want to be transparent because we have nothing to hide, but every other decision would be in contravention of the law,” said Tegeltija.
Judge Ružica Jukić disagrees. She said that there was no reason to keep declaring property records confidential.
“We have found ourselves in a situation that people think that we’re hiding something and that we’ve become enormously rich,” she said. Jukić was of the same opinion several months ago when the Reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) asked HJPC in a letter to disclose asset cards of prosecutors and judges.
HJPC refuses to share the records with an explanation that required records contain personal information about spouses and children and that this would represent a breach of privacy of third parties. It refused to make these records available without such personal information that is protected by the Law on Protection of Personal Data.
“Records from the asset cards of prosecutors who hold public office in a democratic society should not be made confidential,” said the officials from the Ombudsmen office approached by the N1 reporter Boris Brezo.
The recommendation explained that HJPC has not sufficiently proven why the requested records would be exempted from the BiH Law on Freedom of Access to Information which makes an exemption only when requested information is related to personal interests of the privacy of third parties.
According to the Ombudsmen officials, such narrow interpretation of the Law’s provisions would allow every institution a discretion to reject FOIA requests.
“An institution should be allowed a discretion to deny free access to information only in cases when the exemption meets conditions, and should not be used as a pretext for hiding information in the interest of a persona or a group in an institution,” said the recommendation.
According to the Law on Ombudsmen for Human Rights in BiH, this office has a mandate to give recommendations to government departments which then have an obligation to report back on the effects of the recommendation.
Ombudsmen officials said that according to the current legislation their recommendations are not mandatory. However, the institutions have an obligation to cooperate with them because they have a common goal – to efficiently serve the rights of citizens.
“Unless HJPC does not take steps in line with the recommendation related to the case, Ombudsmen is going to include this fact in its annual report for 2015 that will be submitted to the Parliament’s bodies and made available to public,” said Ombudsmen officials.