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Constitutional Tribunal proclaims the amendment to the Access to Public Information Act unconstitutional

The procedure employed to amend the Public Information Act fell short of the constitutional requirements for the legislative process, held the Constitutional Tribunal last week, deciding the motion brought by  Poland’s President. The complaint concerned a controversial provision of the amended Act that limits access to public information. The Tribunal’s decision repeals the provision.

During works on the amendment, NGOs such as the HFHR, the Batory Foundation, the Association of Local Newspapers signaled that the new law set out too general and ambiguous definition of the grounds for a refusal to provide access to public information.

The Sejm, the lower chamber of Poland’s Parliament, took into account those reservations and accepted the compromise wording of the bill. However, when the bill went to the Senate, the higher chamber accepted another amendment lodged by Senator Marek Rocki, which practically reverted the proposed act to its original, controversial version. Despite protests of non-governmental organisations, the amended bill became law.

President Komorowski decided to sign the Act. At the same time he applied to the Constitutional Tribunal for the constitutional review of the new law but only in respect of the legality of the legislative process.

According to the Tribunal, in accepting Rocki’s amendment, which was subsequently affirmed by the both parliamentary chambers, the Senate abused its powers. The Senate’s interference into the Act’s wording was held to be too excessive, considering the principle according to which in the legislative process the higher chamber must act within the substantive limits set by the Sejm. The Senate may modify or rewrite the measures adopted by the lower chamber but it is not allowed to amend a proposed law by adding entirely new content,  non-existent in the original version of the text.

The judges decided that the acceptance of the Rocki’s amendment resulted in a violation of the “three readings rule” and the constitutional provisions governing the lawmaking procedure.

The challenged regulation will be repealed upon the publication of the operative part of the Tribunal’s judgment.

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