The National Network for Children won a case under the Access to Public Information Act against the Ministry of Health.
The subject of the lawsuit is the Ministry’s response to an application prepared by Maria Brestnicka, one of the leading experts in the civic initiative “For a Real Children’s Hospital”, for access to public information on:
– the draft National Strategy for Child and Adolescent Health and Paediatric Care (2021-2030), which plans the state’s actions in relation to children’s health for the next 10 years The information should answer the question of whether there is an analysis of children’s healthcare, as well as which institutions and organisations were involved in the process of developing the Strategy and by what criteria they were selected. We would like to remind you that the National Network for Children and the National Citizens’ Initiative “For a Real Children’s Hospital” are demanding a public debate on the National Strategy for Child and Adolescent Health, although until recently the Ministry of Health claimed that it was not obliged to do so.
– the plan to establish a National Children’s Hospital, including conducting a preliminary needs analysis to answer the question of the parameters of the Children’s Hospital. Along with this, we demand answers on the establishment of a Public Council, which three Ministry of Health leaderships have committed to the National Network for Children and the National Citizens’ Initiative for a Real Children’s Hospital The Public Council should ensure transparency and accountability of the process of establishing the NCD.
In its response to the application, the Ministry provided us with information that was so general, lacking in clarity and content that it did not practically meet the definition of “information” under FOIA. For example, in response to questions from the NMD about the plan for the establishment of the NDB and the Ministry’s commitment to form a Public Council, the MOH indicated only that “the answer is regulated in the current legislation” and that the matter was “under discussion.” Such formalism in the Ministry’s responses is particularly worrying given the overriding public interest in full disclosure of the information requested. Therefore, with the assistance of our Legal Aid Network, the NMD immediately initiated an appeal of the response received.
In a non-appealable decision served on us on 03.07.2023, the Administrative Court – Sofia City upheld the appeal of the NMA, partially annulled the decision of the Ministry of Health and returned the administrative file to the Ministry for a decision on the merits within two weeks.
In its reasoning, the court held that the Ministry’s reply was “too general and does not provide any specific answer”. The court ruled that it was necessary to include the provision of the documents in question in draft form, as this was intended to “increase the transparency of the authority’s activities in the field of children’s health care” and therefore there would not and should not be a restriction on access to public information.
“This victory is important for the cause of a true children’s hospital, whose construction and operation must rest on prior analyses and be as transparent as possible. But the case won is also significant in relation to the proper functioning of the dialogue between civil society and institutions. The court’s decision shows that the formal implementation of the obligations of the administrative bodies obliged under the FOIA clearly does not satisfy the purpose and spirit of the law and is not sufficient” – commented Maria Brestnicka on the won case.