Ensuring the Free Online Access to National Legislation (RO0021)
Early Results: Major
Relevant to OGP Values: Yes
Ambition (see definition): High
Both at EU and national levels, an essential prerequisite for legal compliance is guaranteeing free access to legislation. In this context and in order to fit the European standards, it is necessary to ensure the free access of citizens to updated national legislation.
By the end of 2015, the Government aims to provide both Romanian and European residents (the latter through the N-Lex portal) with a national legislative database, handled by the Ministry of Justice, as an essential condition for knowing, complying with and enforcing the law in any field.
The portal will include a web service that will give the public access to the national legislation in the database, allowing its reuse.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
Commitment 3. Ensuring the Free Online Access to National Legislation
Ensuring the free online access to national legislation
1. The ministry will develop an electronic application to ensure the free access of citizens and other entities to the national legislative database
2. Testing of the developed electronic application
3. The legislative electronic application will be interconnected with the European legislative portal N-lex
Responsible institutions: Ministry of Justice, IT Department
Supporting institution(s): ---
Start date: April 2014 End date: June 2015
This commitment aims to provide free public access to national legislation through an electronic application (e-portal). Prior to this commitment, access to legislation was limited. Interested parties either had to pay for a subscription to the Official Gazette or for a subscription to one of the private services allowing user access to consolidated legislation. Through Law 224/2009, anyone could access the electronic version of the Official Gazette free of charge—but only for 10 days after an issue was published.
The commitment was completed by the time of the midterm review. The electronic application was developed and successfully tested. Civil society and users offered suggestions to increase the portal’s functionality, and information technology (IT) teams have addressed these suggestions on an ongoing basis. The national legislation portal was also connected with the European N-Lex legislative portal, improving the interaction between European citizens and Romanian national legislation. However, stakeholders found it problematic that official national legislation is bought from the Official Gazette by a private enterprise and then sold to the Ministry of Justice for publication on the e-portal. There is also a general concern that the ministry does not have a permanent contract for the maintenance of the portal. Civil society organizations (CSOs) point to the need to change the legislation to allow access to the legislative database free of charge without having to buy the information from a third party.[Note 9: The N-Lex portal is available at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/n-lex/index_ro. The national legislative portal is available at http://legislatie.just.ro/Public/Acasa. The Official Gazette, which is still only accessible for free for the first 10 days after publication, is available online at http://www.monitoruloficial.ro/index.php. ] For more information, please see the 2014–2015 IRM midterm report.
End of term: Complete
This starred commitment was completed by the time of the midterm review. However, further progress has taken place since then, addressing some of the concerns civil society raised at the midterm. For example, civil society observed that in order to publish legislative information, the Ministry of Justice was paying a private intermediary company for access to the Official Gazette, a public institution. Stakeholders found it problematic that in this process, a private company acts as an intermediary between two public institutions, purchasing legislative information from the National Gazette, and selling it to the Ministry of Justice. Some civil society activists have also indicated that the company is selling public legislative information to the Ministry of Justice at inflated prices.
There has been some confusion around this topic. Payments to the private company covered both access to the Official Gazette data, and linking newly published legislation to existing laws in order to publish the consolidated normative act. A new Law (195/2016) will establish free and permanent online access to the Official Gazette, solving the first CSO concern mentioned here. The legislative consolidation process will remain externalized and a private company will continue to be paid for these services.
Since the midterm, CSOs have also noticed there is a one-week delay between when laws are published in the Official Gazette and on the national legislation portal. There are two causes:[Note 10: These were presented during a discussion with participants at the OGP Club meeting on 15 September 2016.] first, information published in the portal must be obtained from the Official Gazette via the private distributor, and second, the new legislation must be consolidated with past modifications to the law before it is published on the national legislation portal. This process takes three to seven days to complete.
Did it open government?
Access to information: Major
Prior to this commitment, access to consolidated national legislation was only available for a fee, while access to the Official Gazette was only available free of cost for a 10 day window. Following the completion of this commitment, access to consolidated national legislation is available to all citizens free of cost, representing a major opening of government in terms of access to information. These changes bring citizens unlimited access to all legislation, and consolidate legislation for users. In addition, a newly created portal, the application program interface, allows stakeholders to access information on laws more easily and efficiently.[Note 11: Automated access to the national legislation portal is available using the information provided at this address: http://legislatie.just.ro/ServiciulWebLegislatie.htm. ]
The commitment was completed before the end of the implementation period and has not been included in the next plan. Notably, civil society pressure to reduce the privatization of government processes reflects a wider shift in the public’s attitude.[Note 12: This is an ongoing issue, one private company suing the Ministry of Justice for implementing anti-competitive measures. For more details, see http://ogp.gov.ro/noutati/oportunitatea-publicarii-legislatiei-online-contestata-in-justitie/. ] The IRM researcher recommends developing the scope of the national legislation portal to include a specific section for legislation that is currently being drafted or under consultation. This could allow citizens and stakeholders to actively understand and engage with the policymaking process. The Senate, the Chamber of Deputies, and various ministries post some legislative proposals online, but the public would be better served if all proposals were available in a standard format via the same portal.