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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

7 - Access to environmental information

Summary

The background

The Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), SI 2004/3391, form a free-standing provision giving access to environmental information (EI) as defined. Information available under these provisions will be exempt from access under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) by virtue of s. 39 FOIA, although the ‘generality’ of s. 21(1) FOIA is not restricted by s. 39(1) FOIA. This means that the exemption involving access by other means under s. 21 (see chapter 5) is available under the EIR. The regulations give effect to Council and EP Directive 2003/4 EC and the Aarhus Convention (the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters signed by the UK in 1998. This is a remarkable example of international agreement on access to information. Section 74 FOIA provides a power to make such regulations in domestic law. A code of practice applies to bodies covered by the regulations. The powers of the Information Commissioner (IC) also apply to the investigation and enforcement of the regulations. Scottish public authorities (PAs), bodies under s. 80, will be covered by Scottish regulations.

The Information Tribunal (IT) has produced some decisions introducing unnecessary complexity into the relationship between the FOIA and the EIR. In EA/2007/0065 Rhondda Cynon Taff CBC v IC a copy of the Land Drainage Act 1991 was requested. The IC required the PA to disclose a copy of the Act.

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