The Supreme Administrative Court rendered the 105-Pan-572 Administrative Decision of November 3, 2016 (hereinafter, the “Decision”), holding that although government information contains segments that are exempt from public disclosure, if such segments can be sufficiently isolated to prevent disclosure and achieve confidentiality, the other portions should be disclosed or provided.
According to the facts underlying this Decision, the Appellant applied to copy the four letters at issue which were related to a petition case. The Appellee replied in the original disposition that the application should be rejected since the four letters at issue involved personnel administrative actions on civil servants, they were not governed by the Administrative Procedure Law and had nothing to do with the Appellant’s rights and interests. Dissatisfied, the Appellant brought this administrative action pursuant to applicable procedures.
According to the Decision, the Freedom of Government Information Law pertains to “the public disclosure of general information,” and the people’s right to apply to administrative agencies for information pursuant to such law is a “substantive right.” Therefore, government agencies should review if such application is subject to any circumstance under the subparagraphs of Article 18, Paragraph 1 of this law. In the absence of any circumstance where public disclosure is exempt in such provisions, provision should be granted as applied by the people. For government information contains segments which prevent public disclosure, if such segments can be isolated to prevent disclosure and to effectively achieve confidentiality, the other portions should be disclosed or provided.
It was further pointed out in the Decision that Article 18, Paragraph 1, Subparagraph 3 of the Freedom of Government Information Law seeks to protect the “thought process” of civil servants and to protect those who hold different views from criticisms and other inconveniences, information so exempt should be “communication of opinions or documents before a decision is made.” In addition, such information should still be disclosed if public disclosure is required for public interest. The court should weigh the legal benefits of “an applicant’s right to information disclosure” against the “interest of excluding public disclosure” based on its determination rendered as a result of ex officio investigation of evidence and should determine if its considerations and decision are flawed.
It was further held in the Decision that the Appellant had filed his complaint and petition with respect to the police disciplinary abnormalities alleged in the four letters at issue in accordance with Article 168 of the Administrative Procedure Law and applied to the Appellee for the provision of the four letters at issue after the Appellee completed the investigation and disposition of the petitioned matter in accordance with Article 9 of the Freedom of Government Information Law. Since the application seems to pertain to public interest, the original decision, which failed to discuss this point, was flawed for insufficiency of grounds.
It was further held that exhibits and materials referenced by the four letters at issue such as investigation reports and evidence, which did not involve internal opinions in the formation of a decision, should basically be provided to the party concerned, and the redaction of the interviewees’ names should be sufficient to prevent them from being criticized and to avoid leakage of personal information. Failing to investigate and state its reasons, the original decision was reversed and remanded.