Opinion: Improved access regime for environmental information and the role of the Information Commissioner

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The importance of the public having access to environmental information has been recognised for many years. In 1990 the EU adopted Council Directive 90/313/ EEC on the freedom of access to information on the environment.1 To implement the Directive in the UK the Government issued the Environmental Information Regulations 1992 (SI 1994, No. 3240) creating an access regime for environmental information. In the same year at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, Rio de Janeiro, 1992) 179 states endorsed the Rio Declaration, a statement of 27 principles. Principle 10 states:

  • Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available.  Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.

There are three facets to this principle: access to information, participation in decision-making and access to justice. Access to information is imperative to ensure meaningful participation, and remedy must be available to those who believe information has been denied to them unjustly. This Opinion explains how the regime for accessing environmental information has been improved and draws attention to the new role of the Information Commissioner.

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