Can a request for free access to information of public importance be submitted by fax or electronically (e-mail) and is a request submitted by phone from editorial staff of the media also considered a "verbal request"?
Article 2 The Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance ("Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia", No. 120/04 and 54/07) stipulates that provisions of the Law which regulates general administrative proceedings (the Law on Administrative Proceedings - "Official Gazette of the FR Yugoslavia" No. 33/97 and 31/01) shall be applied to proceedings before public authorities in exercising the right to free access to information of public importance, unless provided otherwise in that Law.
Article 15, paragraph 1 of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance stipulates that a requester of information shall submit a written request to public authorities and paragraph 7 of the same article stipulates that a government body must enable access to information on the basis of a verbal request as well and such a request shall be entered into special register and deadlines for a written request shall be applied.
Article 55 of the Law on General Administrative Proceedings governs the way of communication between authorities and parties, i.e. possible ways of submission of communications (indirectly or by sending letters by mail, or verbal presentation for a record and, unless provided otherwise, by telegraph or fax). The same provision allows for short and urgent announcements to be given by phone as well, if appropriate under the circumstances. This article does not regulate communication via e-mail, which is understandable taking into account the time when the Law was passed.
In view of the foregoing, and taking into account especially international standards providing for minimization of formalities in connection with submission of requests (Recommendation R(2002) 2 of the Committee of Ministers to member-states on the insight in official documents), the opinion of the Commissioner for Information is that a request for free access to information of public importance can be submitted both by fax and electronically (e-mail) and that verbal requests can be submitted as well, indirectly or by phone by verbal presentation for a record. However, it should be taken into account that in submission of requests in this way a problem may occur in connection with evidencing of submission of a request, their content or date of receipt by authorities, in case where authorities challenge this; on the other hand, the procedure of handling complaints submitted by requesters is a formal procedure governed by the rules set out in the Law on Free Access on Information of Public Importance and the Law on General Administrative Proceedings.
(From the Commissioner's answer No. 011-00-108/2008-03 of 20 October 2008)