Court: Media access to Alaver's court case materials must be reassessed

Mati Alaver in court.
Mati Alaver in court. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Tallinn Administrative Court acceded to complaints by Estonian public broadcaster ERR and media company AS Ekspress Meedia regarding a decision by the Harju County Court not to grant the companies access to the criminal case file relating to cross-country ski coach Mati Alaver who was convicted of a doping offense in November 2019.

The administrative court said in its judgement that the Harju County Court's decision to fully deny journalists access to the case file had been erroneous.

According to the Supreme Court's assessment, the Code of Criminal Procedure does not prohibit to reassess whether any individuals can be permitted to acquaint themselves with the court file or a part thereof after criminal proceedings relating to a closed court sitting have been concluded.

Not granting access to the court file cannot solely be justified by the court session in the corresponding criminal proceedings having been held behind closed doors. 

As to granting access to court materials potentially exposing delicate personal data of witnesses in the proceedings, the administrative court pointed out that delicate personal data can be both processed as well as made public.

According to the administrative court's assessment, what must be taken into consideration when weighing whether or not access should be granted is the context of the publishing of personal data. The issue of top athletes' use of doping, which directly relates to the processing of health data, is a matter of public interest in which access to data cannot be restricted solely due to the delicate nature thereof.

"When publishing data, the extent to which this data has already been made available to the public must also be taken into account. The criminal case of Mati Alaver has been covered extensively by the media, and individuals linked to the case have also given interviews. Therefore, it has to be assessed if making the decision public would adversely affect the rights of the people named in therein," the court said.

The court pointed out that the situation may be different with regard to other materials in the criminal case file. As part of criminal procedure, a large amount of private information was collected both on the accused as well as on people unrelated to the proceedings whose private life and activities bear little to no links to the proceedings and the charges.

"Neither the charges leveled against Mati Alaver nor his punishment justify the publication of such information. The only evidence the publication of which could be weighed would be that directly relating to the crime and Mati Alaver's person," the court judgement reads.

The administrative court's position was that the county court must conduct a new deliberation regarding the applications, and weigh whether or not any legal barriers arise to granting access to court judgements from the Public Information Act or the Personal Data Protection Act. Pursuant to the law and guidelines by higher-tear courts, a separate deliberation is needed for each piece of evidence so as to assess whether it can be made public even just in part.

The administrative court also ordered the Harju County Court to pay ERR €15 and AS Ekspress Meedia €8,030 in procedural expenses. 

The administrative court's decision can be appealed in the Tallinn Circuit Court within 30 days, that is on August 24 at the latest.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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