The Tribunal’s decision in Bruton v IC and The Duchy of Cornwall & The Attorney General to HRH the Prince of Wales (EA/2010/0182) was published yesterday. The issue was whether the Duchy is a “public authority” for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. The Tribunal decided that it is. 11KBW’s Karen Steyn and Joseph Barrett appeared for the Appellant, Amy Rogers (led by Jonathan Crow QC) appeared for the Duchy and Attorney General, and I appeared for the Information Commissioner. Panopticon will provide some analysis of the decision shortly – but in the meantime, there has been considerable press coverage: see for example here and here.

Robin Hopkins


The Tribunal, in Black v Information Commissioner (EA/2011/0064), has considered the definition of environmental information in the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (“the EIRs”). The heart of the definition is “information on the state of the elements of the environment, such as air and atmosphere, water, soil, land, landscape, and natural sites including wetlands, coastal and marine areas, biological diversity and its components, including genetically modified organisms, and the interaction among these elements”. 

It is of course important that public bodies spot when requested information falls within this definition, because any such request must be considered under the EIRs instead of the Freedom of Information 2000 (“FOIA”). It is fairly common for the requester and the public body to assume that a request has been made under FOIA, but to realise subsequently that the information should have been considered under the EIRs. The definition of environmental information is broad and sometimes surprises people by capturing information which does not appear to be environmental. For example, Robin Hopkins recently discussed on this blog how the “landscape” element of the definition has been interpreted broadly so as to include a monument. The Tribunal’s decision in Black is relatively unusual in that the appellant argued that all of the requested information fell within the EIRs, but the Tribunal rejected this submission. 

The appellant sought information on internal fixtures, such as fireplaces and chimney pieces, in English Heritage properties.  He relied on the Advocate General’s opinion in the case of Stichting Natuur en Milieu (Case C-266/09) to argue that buildings and structures were part of the landscape, which was not limited to the natural environmental. The appellant also argued that the EIRs had failed to properly implement the Directive. The Tribunal found that the opinion in Stichting Natuur en Milieu did not support the appellant’s submission and concluded that “On a plain reading of both the Directive and the EIR (which are identical in any event) the Tribunal finds that information relating to the internal fixtures of a building does not constitute “environmental information” within the definition, whether as landscape or otherwise”.   

Rachel Kamm

Launch of Information Law Reports

 The Information Law Reports launched on 14 July 2011, with the following announcement on 11KBW’s website:

Leading chambers 11KBW and legal publisher Justis Publishing are collaborating in a first for both organisations: the creation of a new series of law reports available both in bound volumes from next week and on the established Justis platform from this morning.

Information law is ever more important, seeking to balance the “right to know” and the “right to be left alone” in an age of massive databases and global information flows. We all want to protect our own privacy; but we also want to understand how public authorities make decisions and spend our money. This new series will help professionals grapple with these issues.

Timothy Pitt-Payne QC, a barrister at 11KBW and one of the editors of the new reports, said: “There is a growing case-law, generated by the specialist Information Rights Tribunal and the higher courts. Navigating this material and quickly identifying the most important recent developments is increasingly challenging. The Information Law Reports seek to meet this need, bringing together all the most important cases in a single source. 11KBW are delighted to be working with Justis on this much-needed project.

Masoud Gerami, Managing Director of Justis Publishing, said: “We have had a number of significant milestones in our 25-year history, mostly associated with innovation and developments which have changed legal information dissemination for the better. I am delighted that another milestone has been added to our list of achievements by producing the new series of Information Law Reports in association with 11KBW, the leaders in this increasingly important field. I believe that the complementary nature of the expertise from the partners in this project is the ideal requirement for any successful product or service, and we look forward to a continued relationship with 11KBW.”

He added: “This is also the first time that Justis Publishing has produced a product in hard copy, and we are very excited about the possibilities that the combination of hard copy and online versions will present.

For further information, please call +44 (0)20 7267 8989 or email press@justis.com.


Omagh DC v IC (EA/2010/0163) is the newest decision on the scope of “environmental information” under the EIR. It is notable both for the broad interpretation it gives to the “landscape” element of that definition, and for the relevance the Tribunal ascribed to the purpose of the request.

The case concerned a memorial on Council-owned land commemorating IRA members who died during the hunger strikes of 1981. The Council undertook an Equality Impact Assessment on its policy on “Disposal of Land for the Purpose of Erecting or Retaining a Memorial or Monument”. The requester sought the names, departments and job titles of those Council officials responsible for that Assessment, as well as the Council’s letter to the Equality Commission.

The issue for the Tribunal was whether this should have been dealt with under FOIA or the EIR. The Council argued that the applicant’s queries were not about the environment, but about a process being used to inform a consultation on a Council decision. The Commissioner contended that the requested information was “environmental information” within the meaning of reg. 2(1)(c) EIR because the assessment was a “measure which is likely to affect the land and landscape”, and that details of those officials responsible for drafting the policy were not so far removed from this “measure” as not to have an effect on it.

The Tribunal has agreed with the Commissioner. It accepted that the Assessment could be fairly described as an investigative step prior to a potentially controversial final decision affecting or protecting the landscape, and also that the scope for “visual as opposed to cultural impact is capable of being regarded as minor” in this case. Nonetheless, it observed that under reg. 2(1)(i), the test is not only whether a measure affects or is likely to affect one of the listed elements but also whether a measure is “designed to protect” those elements; therefore, whether a change is likely is not determinative. The title of the Assessment implied a possible outcome preserving the status quo. The Tribunal was clear that:

“Only the connection with an impact on land or landscape links the concerns in this case into environmental rights. Had the memorial in question been inside a public building, the landscape context would have been absent but the cultural concerns would not have been different”.

Interestingly, although it recognised the “motive blind” principle, the Tribunal took the view that motive could be relevant not to the decision on whether or not to disclose the information (with which the Tribunal was not concerned) but to determining whether or not information is “environmental”:

“… both context and the motive of the requester are potentially relevant considerations. If the requester appeared to be wholly unconscious of an environmental aspect or import to his request, and stressed other reasons for his interest in the information, he could not be said to be denied environmental access rights if his request is not considered under EIR… If the Complainant had shown no evidence of concern about landscape impact, or if the allocation of the issue to one framework rather than the other could have led to a material difference in treatment of the substantive issue, these would have been relevant factors to take into account”.

Robin Hopkins


Both the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) and the Directive from which it derives (Directive 2003/4/EC) emphasise the importance of permitting the public access to information on ‘emissions’ – see further the fact that a number of the exceptions provided for in the EIR and the Directive are specifically disapplied in the case of emissions information (see r. 12(9) EIR and Art. 4(2) of the Directive). However, one question which is not always easy to answer in practice is what will constitute ‘an emission’ for the purposes of the legislation. In part, this difficulty arises because neither the EIR nor the Directive contains any definition of the word ‘emission’ (although the concept is examined in the Implementation Guide to the Aarhus Convention, which the Directive was itself designed to implement). The question of what will constitute an ‘emission’ for the purposes of the EIR and the Directive was considered for the first time by the Information Tribunal in the case of GM Freeze v IC & DEFRA (EA/2010/0112). In that case, the First Tier Tribunal held (obiter) that the word ‘emission’ did not include the deliberate sowing of genetically-modified seed. The Tribunal’s decision is also worth considering in view of the analysis it contains on the application of the personal data exception provided for in r. 13 EIR.