Sentenced for recording. Is it a SLAPP?

Recording a local council’s committee meeting in your municipality? Fine, the law allows you to do so. Unless you want to do it in Bielsk Podlaski, in which case expect the councillors to call the police.

Such an adventure met Jan Mordań, a resident of the village of Haćki, who went to a meeting of the joint committees of the Bielsk Podlaski Municipality Council. Jan is interested in what is happening in the municipality: he attends sessions of the municipal council or asks about money spending. So on 27 August 2019 he also went to a joint meeting of the Audit Committee, the Budget Committee, Municipal and Spatial Planning Committee and the Education and Social Affairs Committee. When he turned on the recording on his mobile phone, the chair asked the legal adviser whether a resident, such as Jan Mordań was,  had the right to record a committee meeting. She replied that only if the councillors gave their consent. The councillors voted, with the majority deciding that the meeting could not be recorded. They asked Jan Mordań to stop recording as a result. He did not agree to this, so a police patrol was called and noted down his personal data. Despite this, Jan Mordań did not stop recording the committee meeting (the Police memo in Polish).

Was Jan Mordan entitled to enter and record the committee meeting?

Yes. Pursuant to Article 61(1) sentence 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, a citizen has the right to obtain information on the activities of public authorities and persons performing public functions. In turn, pursuant to Article 61(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, the right to obtain information includes admission to meetings of collective organs of public authority originating from general elections, with the possibility of audio or video recording. Similarly, Article 18(1) of the Access to Information Act states that meetings of collective organs of public authority originating from general elections are open and accessible.

More – the openness of committee deliberations follows directly from the Municipal Government Act:

  1. The activities of the municipal bodies are public. Restrictions on openness may only result from laws.

  2. The openness of the activity of the municipal bodies includes, in particular, the right of citizens to obtain information, access to sessions of the municipal council and meetings of its committees, as well as access to documents resulting from the performance of public tasks, including minutes of meetings of the municipal bodies and committees of the municipal council.

  3. Rules for access to and use of documents are laid down in the municipal statutes.

Article 11b.

These provisions do not contain any grounds for excluding the openness of the deliberations of the committees of the municipal council. It should be assumed that their open nature is the rule. Exclusion of openness in this respect could only take place on the basis of a law (in accordance with constitutional principles) and to the extent specified in the Polish Constitution. At the same time, every meeting of the committees of the municipal council may be recorded. The cited provisions do not allow for the exclusion of openness by councillors – and the council as a public authority must act on the basis and within the limits of the law – Article 7 of the Polish Constitution.

Jan Mordań knew his rights. He knew that he could record the committee meeting. However, police intervention did not go unnoticed. A resident of the village of Haćki (Jan Mordań) was sentenced by a warrant court for recording committee meetings (Sentence in Polish).

He then came to the Citizens Network Watchdog Poland. He received free legal support, thanks to which he wrote an objection to the injunction (Objection in Polish)

On 13 December 2019, a hearing was held in the criminal court in Bielsk Podlaski. Watchdog Poland also became involved in the case by submitting a Amicus Curiae (in Polish).

On 20 December 2019, the court in Bielsk Podlaski acquitted Jan Mordań. Reading out the verdict, the judge pointed out that the defendant had acted in accordance with the law, so there were no grounds to charge him with disturbing the peace and public order. He added that councillors could not pass resolutions that would prohibit the recording of committee meetings, as there was no statutory basis for doing so.

The Police Commander disagreed with the verdict and filed an appeal. On 17 July 2020, the Regional Court in Bialystok announced the verdict. It dismissed the Police Commander’s appeal and stated that the Dictrict Court had taken all the circumstances of the case into account when issuing the verdict.


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