Judgement on the case of "‘Media Development Foundation’ and ‘Institute for Development of Freedom of Information’ vs. the Parliament of Georgia"
On 7 June 2019, the First Board of the Constitutional Court of Georgia granted constitutional complaints N693 and N857 (non-commercial legal entities ‘Media Development Foundation’ and ‘Institute for Development of Freedom of Information’ vs. the Parliament of Georgia) and declared unconstitutional provisions of the ‘Law on Personal Data Protection of Georgia’ and the ‘General Administrative Code of Georgia’ that restricted access to judicial decisions.
The complainants challenged the constitutionality of legislative norms regulating access to judicial acts and personal information contained therein adopted at an open hearing. According to the complaint, the disputed provisions, as a general rule, did not allow for disclosure of personal data included in judicial acts, apart from exceptional circumstances as prescribed by the law. The disclosure of special categories of data was completely prohibited without the written consent of a data owner. The complainants stated that impugned norms contradicted with the constitutional right to access information contained in public institutions.
The respondent, the Parliament of Georgia, stated that the legislation struck a fair balance between legitimate interests of the right to access public information and the protection of private life. In particular, the law allowed for the disclosure of personal data under appropriate circumstances, whereas special categories of personal data, due to their sensitive nature, shall not be accessible to the public without the consent of a data owner.
The Constitutional Court emphasised that judicial acts constitute the type of information kept at a state institution which, by definition, is subject to the high public interest. The Constitutional Court further noted that access to judicial decisions is crucial for ensuring public control of and trust in the judiciary, as well as for protecting the right to a fair trial and the constitutional interest of legal security. The Court also stressed that under exceptional circumstances, due to the sensitivity of the information, redacting personal data in judicial acts may be necessary, yet this shall not have a general character. While judging on the publicity of a judicial decision in each case, the effect of disclosing personal data on the privacy of an individual concerned needs to be assessed and considered whether it outweighs the high public interest of accessing judicial acts.
The Constitutional Court held that the disputed law did not strike a fair balance between the foregoing interests, as it established a blanket prohibition on access to judicial acts in full text, without giving account for individual circumstances of a case. Consequently, the Constitutional Court ruled that the law in question contradicted with the freedom of information guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia (article 18.2) and pronounced it unconstitutional.
The Constitutional Court further indicated that an immediate invalidation of the disputed norms would have caused a gap in legislation by removing a legal ground for the denial of access to judicial acts on account of protecting personal data. It could thus have resulted in the violation of rights of individuals, whose personal data are contained in judicial acts. Accordingly, the Constitutional Court granted the Parliament of Georgia with reasonable time to address the said regulatory noncompliance in accordance with the Constitution by 1 May 2020, after which the disputed law will become void.