Clients sometimes receive letters from the police (eventually from the court) that may be headed as a “request” or “request for information” and wonder whether they really have to answer questions posed therein or disclose required documentation or, in some cases meet requirements defined therein, as the information the police requires may be frequently considered by the client to be of internal nature, confidential, secret or otherwise protected / business sensitive information. Their question therefore is “to what extent do we have to help the police with their enquiries”?
The first thing that one should realise is that such “requests for information” are, from legal perspective, issued on the basis of Sec 8 Para 1 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Act No. 141/1961 Coll., as amended, hereinafter “CPC”) as a part of an investigation; these documents (requests / letters) mostly contain explicitly refer to this Sec 8 CPC. Therefore they are an instrument of the police, which is officially called a “demand of the body responsible for criminal investigation” to paraphrase the official Czech title. Natural persons and legal entities do have a duty to satisfy / act on demand made by such body (i.e. the police, a state attorney, the court) that is connected with performance of their tasks, without undue delay and free of any charge.
By law (Sec 8 Para 4 CPC), it is possible to reject fulfilment of obligations / provide information as stipulated in Sec 8 Para 1 CPC only in a few exceptional cases:
- where there exist an obligation to keep secret information confidential with applies to information protected by Act No. 412/2005 Coll., on Protection of Secret Information, as amended, i.e. basically information which could cause damage to the interests of the Czech Republic, or which could be disadvantageous to this interest, if such information is disclosed or misused; such information is kept on the list of secret information maintained in accordance with Sec 139 of Act No. 412/2005 Coll.;
- where there exists an obligation to maintain secrecy as imposed or recognized by the state, e.g. obligation of secrecy imposed on attorneys, notaries, banks, mail confidentiality etc.
As the readers may see, the cases under which information may be withheld are quite limited. Especially it is not possible to legally reject fulfilment of this obligations / provide information as stipulated in Sec 8 Para 1 CPC by reference to general principles applicable to protection of trade secrets, which is in practice the most frequent reason why clients would like to limit or withhold cooperation / documents from the police or other bodies responsible / active for criminal investigation (see above). Information required by the police (or other bodies) is not in most cases covered by one of the exemptions stipulated in Sec 8 Para 4 CPC (see above) and thus the request to ‘help the police in their enquiries’ is indeed in fact an obligation and persons, who are asked to disclose information, however they might think such information constitutes a trade secret or otherwise business-sensitive information, must provide it as the chances of a successful challenge are extremely limited.
The addressees should also note that if they fail to help the police, they may be subject to a disciplinary penalty up to CZK 50 000 (Sec 66 CPC).