The right to access environmental information : an analysis of UK law in the context of international, European, and comparative law
The present thesis comprehensively examines the right of any member of the public to access environmental information held by mainly public bodies and the obligation of these bodies to provide it upon request. In doing this, we do not claim to present the reader with a brand new theory. However this thesis is original in the way that it combines in a single piece of work all the aspects of the subject: both legal and non-legal. With respect to the legal aspects of the subject, these are analysed in regard of not only national law, but also international, EC law and also the law of the European Convention on Human Rights. In other words, the present thesis is a synthesis that has never been done before. In our introductory chapter we set the limits of our examination by stating that we will mainly examine the legal rules that grant a right to individuals to access environmental information upon request. We also examine the historical evolution of the right to access to environmental information. Then, in Chapter I, which is the core chapter of the present work, we explain in detail the substantive provisions of the legal instruments granting a right to access environmental information upon request: the Aarhus convention, the 2003/4IEC Environmental Information Directive on public access to Environmental Information and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, which transpose into UK law this Directive and the information provisions of the Aarhus convention. It should be stressed that we analyse in parallel the equivalent provisions of EC law, international law and UK law, thus avoiding repeating the identical parts of these instruments. This parallel examination of all legal rules that grant a right to access environmental information is also a feature that renders the present work original, since there is no other written work on the subject adopting such an approach. In chapter 2 we examine other specific UK enactments that grant a right to access specific kinds of environmental information which is recorded on registers. Moreover, we highlight the fact that the statutory provisions on registers serve a different function than the environmental information regulations, as they also create a statutory duty for some public authorities to collect and compile certain types of environmental information and place it on registers. In chapter 3 we examine the relevant ECHR articles which have been interpreted by the Court of Strasbourg as including a right to access environmental information. Thus, we analyse how in some limited circumstances the right to access environmental information can be of a fundamental nature. Finally, in chapter 4 we examine how the 90/313IEEC Directive (the precursor of Directive 2003/41EC) was transposed in French ,law, in comparison with England. We conclude that the English method of transposition has been more in conformity with the aim of the right to access environmental information: environmental protection. We also conclude that this important finding is also of some relevance today, even after the enactment of the 2003 Directive and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. The present work is concluded by showing that: I) the right of access to environmental information is what could be called a 'multi-layered' right, which stems from various legal instruments of different levels (the EC level, international level and UK national level). This is the reason why the right to environmental information is a right with uncertain boundaries and content, since, although all these instruments go into the same direction of recognising a right to access environmental information to any person, they all contain different limitations and exceptions to the scope of this right; 2) the right to access environmental information is fundamentally different from the general right to access information held by public bodies, since it aims at achieving better environmental protection; 3) as a consequence, the correct approach to any analysis of the right to access environmental information is to understand and acknowledge that, first, this right stems from various European, national and international legal instruments, and second, that although it is a right similar to the general right to access information, it is conceptually different as it aims to protect the environment.