In the Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia No. 105 from November 8th, 2021 the Law on the Protector of Citizens was published, as well as amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, which entered into force on the eighth day from the date of publication in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia, i.e. from November 16th, 2021.
- The Law on the Protector of Citizens
The new Law on the Protector of Citizens brings several significant innovations, and one of them is the extension of the mandate of the Protector of Citizens. Namely, the mandate was extended to eight years (from previously prescribed five years), while the possibility of re-election of the Protector was abolished.
In addition, the Law on the Protector of Citizens amends the procedure for election of the Protector of Citizens. Instead of the current practice of MPs proposing candidates for the election of the Protector of Citizens, the institute of a public call has been introduced, which enables all interested persons to apply as potential candidates for the Protector of Citizens. The procedure for the election of the Protector of Citizens is identical to the procedure for the election of the Commissioner for Information of Public Interest, which is explained in more detail below.
Furthermore, a person may be elected as a Protector of Citizens even if he or she does not have a law degree (as provided by the previously applicable law). The candidates, however, need to have higher education and at least 10 years of professional experience in fields of importance for executing the competences of the Protector of Citizens.
When it comes to the election of Deputy Protectors, they are no longer elected by the National Assembly, at the proposal of the Protector of Citizens, but exclusively by the Protector of Citizens himself, after a public competition.
Finally, the new Law on the Protector of Citizens formalizes the complaint procedure. Namely, there are restrictive conditions for filing complaints related to the obligation of the complainant to seek the protection of his rights in an appropriate legal procedure before an administrative body, prior to addressing the Protector of Citizens.
- Amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance (hereinafter: the “Law on Free Access to Information“)
One of the most important innovations brought by the amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information refers to the length of the mandate and the procedure for the election of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance (hereinafter: the “Commissioner”). Therefore, as is the case in the new Law on the Protector of Citizens, the mandate is extended to eight years, without the possibility of re-election, while the institute of public call is introduced in the election procedure.
In particular, all interested parties shall be able to submit a candidacy for the election of the Commissioner, while the Assembly Committee in charge of public administration (hereinafter: the “Committee“) shall publish a list of candidates who have met all legal requirements. After that, the parliamentary groups in the National Assembly present their candidate proposals and submit them to the Committee, which elects the Commissioner by a majority vote of the total number of members.
Furthermore, the amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information expand the definition of public authorities, so that in addition to state bodies and legal entities established or financed by state bodies, natural persons with public authority, such as notaries and public executors, are also considered public authorities.
The Legislator additionally regulate the mechanism of enforcement of the Commissioner’s decision too. Namely, the Commissioner is authorized to “force” the authority to fulfill the obligations from the decision through the system of imposing fines (in the amount of 20,000 to 100,000 dinars) until the obligations from the decision is are fulfilled. In that sense, fines can be imposed multiple times, i.e. until the authority acts upon the decision of the Commissioner.
The Law on Free Access to Information shall apply three months from the date of entry into force, i.e. from February 16, 2022.
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