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When will the right to public access to information on the environment override business’s right to protect their data? Simon Tilling of Burges Salmon says there is a balance to be struck, and environmental lawyers must be aware of information rights to get the best results for clients.
There is no doubt that improved access to information about the environment in which we live has significant benefits. It improves public awareness and participation in public decisions and gives the public the opportunity to take part in important debates. These rights have been enshrined in the Aarhus Convention to which the UK and the EU are both signatories.
However, the rights are not absolute, and there is a balance to be struck when information about the environment is also commercially confidential, or contains intellectual property, or is of a particularly sensitive nature. That balancing act is the subject of much debate and environmental lawyers need to be aware of information rights in order to get the best results for their clients.
The Aarhus Convention and the corresponding European Directive 2003/4/EC are transposed to English law through the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, SI 2004/3391 (EIR), which governs all ‘environmental information’. The scope of ‘environmental information’ is surprisingly wide.
Note that the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which came into force on the same day, governs all information which is not ‘environmental information’.
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