«A new mechanism has been created to help reduce the legal nihilism in municipalities – disrespecting the rights of minority deputies,» BNN was told by Ventspils City Council opposition deputy Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis, commenting on the verdict of the Supreme Court’s Department of Administrative Cases.
During a meeting of the Supreme Court’s Department of Administrative Cases, judges decided to overturn the ruling of the Administrative District Court. This ruling had previously rejected Kristovskis’ application in which he requested the court to order Ventspils City Council to provide the information he had previously requested, as well as declare the restriction of information provision to minority deputies on the city council’s official website as illegal.
With this decision, the Supreme Court stepped back from its case-law decisions made 12 April 2013 and 27 May 2016 – the practice of having cases regarding information requests from municipal council deputies reviewed as part of administrative processes. Now the court has declared that in accordance with democratic principles and Section 2 of the Administrative Process Law violations of rights of deputies are to be viewed by administrative courts.
«This offers greater justice and fairness in public administration and municipal administration»
Kristovskis told ventspilnieks.lv that ‘the Supreme Court’s ruling gives new impulses in the fight against authoritarianism and other democracy-distorting activities in Ventspils’. He also believes this opens a new page for Latvia’s court justice system, because it creates a mechanism with which deputies will be able to defend their subjective rights in court.
The opposition deputy also told BNN: «This offers greater justice and fairness in public administration and municipal administration. State officials should learn to use this mechanism to defend state interests.»
«Until now it was not possible in practice, because the Administrative Court refused to launch cases requested by deputies and state officials. The Supreme Court found arguments and proof provided by me, a minority deputy in Ventspils City Council, as justified. This is why the Supreme Court declared it previous practice as flawed, which they have corrected, making it a duty for Administrative Court to view cases regarding violation of deputies subjective rights,» Kristovskis told ventspilnieks.lv.
It should be said that the Supreme Court explains this decision with the ruling of the Constitutional Court of 29 June 2018, in which it was concluded that in accordance with democratic principles and Section 2 of the Administrative Process Law any violations of subjective rights of municipal deputies are in the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court.
The Constitutional Court concluded in the ruling that in the event of a municipality breaching subjective public rights of one of its deputies, he law and specifically Section 101 of the Constitution require providing a mechanism for protection of the rights of the affected deputy.
The Supreme Court also adds that the Administrative District Court, repeatedly deciding on the progress of the application, needs to decide also on the request from municipal deputy Kristovskis on the legality of the restriction on publishing information on Ventspils City Council’s official portal ventspils.lv.
The Supreme Court has concluded that regulations to not guarantee municipal deputies the rights to have their opinions be published on the municipal portal. «In this particular case, the plaintiff [Kristovskis] does not simply believe he has the right to publish his opinion on the municipal portal when no opinions of municipal portals are published, except for cases when opinions are included in documents, which have to be published, but rather he wants to be provided with equal opportunities to publish opinions together with other municipal deputies,» the court comments on the verdict.
The Supreme Court adds – if not only neutral information about the municipality’s work and opinions of deputies of the city council are published on the official portal, it is not allowed to use this portal to support one-sided opinions of specific members or groups. In such a situation, the portal has to reflect a variety of opinions, including opinions of the opposition. This comes from the principle of democracy. In a democratic country ruled by law, municipal deputies have to be provided with equal rights in all aspects – both in relation to procedural rights and material solutions. At the same time, it is necessary to comply with the principle of proportional representation. Equal rights for deputies also include the rights to inform society of their activities and opinions, as well as equal rights to access publicly financed communication means.
To continue the fight for rule of law in state administration, Ventspils City Council opposition deputies Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis, Dace Korna, Aivis Landmanis and Ivars Landmanis turned this September to the Administrative District Court with a request to cancel Ventspils City Council’s illegal decision of 29 September 2017 in regards to the city council’s committees and councils, as well as make it a duty for the city council to include opposition deputies in committees, councils and work groups.
«Until now, Ventspils City Council has been actively ignoring the rights of opposition deputies to be represented in committees, councils and work groups, denying them the right to perform the duties entrusted to them by residents. Administrative District Court will view this plea on 6 December 2018,» said Kristovskis.