Following a retrial, an extended panel of five judges from the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania (SACL) has upheld an appeal filed by Atvira Klaipėda, a news website. The SACL set aside all previous rulings of the courts of other instances against our client and annulled the decision of the Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics, which had found the news website to be in breach of data protection rules.
This unappealable decision from the court is an important step both for freedom of speech and protection of the rights of journalists.
Lithuanian Parliament initiates law amendments regarding the definition of a public figure
According to an article published by Atvira Klaipėda, the son of a former accountant at Gatvių apšvietimas was the sole shareholder in the tenderer successful during a tender procedure for the procurement of lighting fixtures. The Public Procurement Office recommended terminating the contract due to a breach of the principle of transparency.
The Inspector of Journalist Ethics concluded that the purpose of the publication could have been achieved without disclosing personal data – i.e. the name and surname – and the family relationship. The news website appealed this decision to the courts, but they upheld the inspector’s decision.
The journalist community expressed support for Atvira Klaipėda in this situation, calling for protection of the right to information. This case prompted the Lithuanian Parliament to initiate amendments to the law regarding the definition of a public figure.
“Today’s judgement has set clear rules as to when the protection of personal data may be restricted in the area of public procurement. The court addressed the balance between an individual’s right to privacy and an individual’s right to collect, disseminate and receive information. In this context, the court also ruled extensively on the application of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and has finally expanded the concept of a public figure in respect of the shareholders of a company participating in public procurement,” – says Kęstutis Švirinas, the Sorainen partner who represented Atvira Klaipėda in court.
The court pointed out that participating in public procurement as a legal entity was purely a legal form of pursuing the business interests of its owners. This form does not invalidate the links between a natural person’s own activities and public resources, so the beneficiary is to be regarded as a public figure. This judgement will prevent shareholders from hiding from the public behind company names.