Summary: Access to the register is improved, but names of shareholders are not accessible.
|Request sent to||Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Industry and Business
|Outcome of request||Ministry of Justice: Partial Information, following a series of appealsMinistry of Industry and Business: Information refused. This decision is currently under appeal before the Czech Administrative Court.|
|Time taken to respond||Ministry of Justice: 13 working days for initial response (Deadline is 15 working days) but 9 months to obtain partial access to the registerMinistry of Industry and Business: 9 working days|
|Reason for refusal||Ministry of Justice:
Need to pay private company.
Lack of IT infrastructure.
Ministry of Industry and Business:
Another law overrides FOI law.
Need to pay private company.
Phase I: Initial Request
The initial request was sent on 6 August 2013 to the Ministry of Justice of the Czech Republic, which sent a confirmation of receipt on the same day. According to the Czech access to information law, the deadline for responding to public requests is of 15 working days.
The Ministry replied on 23 August, stating that “all records of entries in the commercial register are published and are accessible via the Internet.” The Ministry told us that they did not hold the information requested in a machine-readable or re-usable format and that they did not have an application that would allow for a bulk download of the file so this would require an external contractor, which would cost around €10,000. They stated that these costs would have to be reimbursed by us.
The Ministry did state, however, that as part of their Open Government Partnership commitments they were working to transfer the data to re-usable format in order to make it available online by the end of the year.
On 6 September 2013 we submitted an appeal to the information registry with the help of a Czech legal expert in which we asked for the information to be provided in whatever format it was held and we argued that the costs for extracting the database were far too high. The response, dated 17 September 2013, simply repeated the previous arguments for not providing a full copy of the Czech company register.
On 23 September we sent another administrative appeal to the Ministry of Justice, arguing against the refusal to provide information. Three weeks later, on 14 October, we were told that the Appellate body had not yet taken a decision and that they were unsure of when exactly that would be.
On 14 November, three weeks later, the Ministry of Justice sent an email stating that the decision had finally been taken and that the official response would be issued shortly. On 19 November 2013, the response stated that the initial refusal had been reversed by the appeals body and that the case had been sent back to the Ministry of Justice for re-consideration.
The deadline for the re-considered response was set for 4 December 2013 but no response was received that month. (It must be noted however that in the meantime there had been a change in government and a new Minister had been appointed in November 2013).
On 5 January 2014, an appeal was filed against the Ministry’s failure to respect the deadline for responding to the order to re-consider their original decision, and a reminder email was sent to the Ministry on 13 January.
The official response was eventually received from the Ministry of Justice on 20 January 2014, which stated that access could in fact be given, in line with the decision of the Appellate body, but that the database was very large and so it needed to be viewed in person and downloaded to a hard drive.
The response from the Ministry also stated that the file would be uploaded to the internet that week, and we were informed that in the framework of the Open Government Partnership the data would be released in open format – but that before this could occur, the Ministry of Interior needed to develop a methodology or policy for publishing open data, to create a catalogue of government-held data, and to approve legislation for the open licensing of this information.
On 21 January 2014, our partners visited the Ministry of Justice and they were greeted by the spokesperson, who handed them the USB stick containing the company register database. However, that database did not contain the names, dates of birth and addresses of individuals connected to these companies, because we were told that there was a privacy issue which needed to be resolved through the aforementioned open data policy.
On 2 February 2014, we filed an appeal against the refusal to provide the names of individuals in the company register database, as you can already find these online for free, though only record-per-record.
On 14 February, our lawyer in the Czech Republic had a face to face meeting with representatives from the Ministry of Justice and again we were told that there was no methodology for providing the data and that they didn’t know how to deal with personal information.
The refusal to provide names was received two days later via email, on 16 February 2014. It repeated the same arguments that the legal framework for open data and personal privacy still needed to be put into place.
On 4 March 2014, an appeal was sent seeking damages for the delays in processing the information requests and in providing the information.
On 10 March 2014, another administrative appeal was submitted against the failure of the Ministry to issue a final legal decision in writing, explaining why we could not have access to the entire contents of the database, including the names of the individuals.
However, on 28 March 2014, the Ministry of Justice dismissed the complaints as they had been submitted after the deadline.
Phase II: Trying again
Requesting information from the Ministry of Justice
At the “Hacks/Hackers conference” in the Czech Republic on 10 April 2014, our partner Pavla Holcová spoke about the company registers request project and explained the problems we had faced in accessing the complete company register database using the Czech Freedom of Information act.
Immediately afterwards, the team from Datastory.cz (formerly Economia Media House) agreed to join the campaign and on 6 May 2014, Pavla and Jan Cibulka from Datastory.cz re-sent the request to the Ministry of Justice, and once again sought access to the full database of companies registered in the country and specifying that they also wanted access to the names of individuals listed in the register.
On 13 May 2014, the Ministry of Justice extended the deadline for responding to the request to 31 May as more time was needed in order for them to conduct the necessary consultations with the Ministry’s different departments.
On 30 May 2014, the Ministry of Justice sent an e-mail which included a link to its website, from which the updated Business Register can now be downloaded: https://or.justice.cz/ias/ui/faq. The database includes the names of individuals connected to each company, but information about the business area or concession of the company is missing, as is the names of the company’s shareholders. Furthermore, although you can download the database, it takes a substantial amount of time to sort it into a re-usable format.
On 16 June 2014 we filed an appeal against the failure on the part of the Ministry to provide a official, reasoned response via a formal letter and to specifically argue why they had not made the names of individuals public.
On 22 September 2014, the final response was received, which explained that the register could not be published in a machine-readable format due to a lack of IT infrastructure, and that access to names of shareholders could not be made public because it was necessary to protect their personal privacy.
Requesting information from the Ministry of Industry and Business
On 6 May 2014, we also sent a similar but slightly modified request to the Ministry of Industry and Business, asking for data to find out who in the Czech Republic holds a license for the production of alcohol. The Ministry of Industry and Business is responsible for the register of individual entrepreneurs, which is where information about alcohol licenses is kept.
This request was sent as a follow-up to the fake liquor scandal in the Czech Republic, which poisoned and killed 23 people who consumed falsely-certified alcohol in September 2012. In the request, we specified that we were seeking access to the complete database, including the names of individuals.
On 19 May 2014, the Ministry sent a refusal (MPO/22857/2014) in which they argued that all information that was of public interest was already published on the website. They further argued that the Access to Information Law was not applicable in this case because there are specific Trade Licensing Acts that establish the modalities for accessing the information in the alcohol-licenses register, and the Czech access to information law did not apply in this case because the information was covered by other more specific laws.
On 16 June 2014, we appealed against the Ministry’s response because they had failed to provide us with a rejection that was in line with the access to information law, which they are legally required to do even if another law also applies to that information. We also argued that, even if the company register law did not have a specific provision on accessing the full dataset, it also did not specifically prohibit full access.
No response was received to this appeal, so we sent a follow-up appeal on 16 July 2014 complaining against the failure to respect the deadlines for responding to appeals. However, this appeal was dismissed on 31 July because in the meantime, on 17 July, the Ministry had finally provided us with a response, in which they confirmed their decision to not release the information.
The refusal re-stated the previous arguments about specific laws overriding the more general access to information laws. It insisted once again that access to licensing information could only be done on a case-by-case basis when the specific company is named and that the rest of the information is published in a statistical format already, which they considered to be an adequate level of transparency. Finally, they added that their database is maintained by a private company called ICZ, and that in order to export or select information from the database, they would have to pay ICZ around €900.
On 16 August 2014, Pavla and Jan filed an administrative court case against the Ministry of Industry and Business for its failure to respect the right of access to information. We argued that restrictions to accessing public information should be applied narrowly, and that in this case the reasons for not providing the information had been vague and poorly argued. We insisted that access to information is a fundamental human right and argued that citizens and requesters should not be negatively affected by the Ministry’s decision to outsource the management of the public database, which was one of the main reasons given by the Ministry.
The average time frame for a court case of this nature in the Czech Republic is of two years, so we are still waiting for the ruling from the Administrative Court.
A Member of the Czech Parliament asks the same question, and gets the same response
Following coordinated action from our colleagues in the Czech Republic, a Member of Parliament, Jan Farský took up the cause and wrote directly to the Ministry on 27 August 2014, asking for the same information: a list of the entities that had been granted a license to sell alcohol.
The Ministry responded to MP Farský on 22 September 2014, repeating all the previous arguments.
As stated previously, we are still awaiting the ruling from the Czech Administrative Court in this case.
Accessing the Company Register of the Czech Republic
|Information available (for free)||Thanks to Access Info and our partners in the Czech Republic, you can now download the whole company register database in open format for free, though the names of company shareholders are not available.You can search online for free without registering, via the website https://or.justice.cz/ias/ui/rejstrik.Although you can only search record-per-record.The company register contains the directors’ names, date of birth, and residence, and usually there are also pdf copies of founding documents which include ID numbers. You can get information about past directors, the address of and ID number of the company, the date of registration, its legal form.
You can also access the ordinary, extraordinary and consolidated financial statements (if not included in the Annual Report), as well as reports on the relations between related parties which are submitted under the Czech Commercial Code.
|Provision for public access||You have to know what you are searching for in the register, as you cannot do blank searches. All the information is freely available online for consultation record-per-record, and there are only charges for verified copies of the information in contained in the register.|
|Cost per record||20 CZK for verified copies of the information requested.|
|Cost for whole database||Initially, it cost 10,000 euros to extract the full dataset due to the amount of time we were told it would take.
But after a series of appeals, the whole database was eventually provided online for free, though without the names of shareholders.