David Holland: A Ruling More Significant Than Russell Review
At the request of the University of East Anglia the Information Commissioner has this morning issued his Decision Notice, FER0238017, on my complaint that UEA did not deal with his 2008 requests for information in accordance with the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs).
Like other Decision Notices it is formulaic and low key. However its 15 pages may turn out to be more significant for the assessment of Climate Change than the 160 page report from Sir Muir Russell’s team that has followed it.
Paragraphs 34 onwards of the Notice make clear beyond argument that information on climate change and its assessment by the IPCC is subject to the EIRs, and that UEA broke them. Paragraph 36 states:
“The Commissioner’s considers that it is not necessary for information to have a direct effect on the environment for it to fall within the definition in the EIR, only that it needs to be linked to a relevant subsection in regulation 2(1). He is of the view that the phrase “any information…on…” contained in regulation 2(1) should be interpreted widely and in line with the purpose expressed in the first recital of the Council Directive 2003/4/EC which the EIR enact.”
The Commissioner concluded that the information I requested was subject to the Regulations and that accordingly UEA had breached them, first by not issuing a refusal notice within the prescribed time, and secondly for not disclosing it.
In paragraph 51 of Other Matters, which does not form part of the DN, the Commissioner states:
“The complainant made an allegation that an offence under regulation 19 of the EIR had been committed. Although the emails referred to above indicated prime facie evidence of an offence, the Commissioner was unable to investigate because six months had passed since the potential offence was committed, a constraint placed on the legislation by the Magistrates Court Act 1980.”
My complaint to the Commissioner was one of four made to public authorities that participated in IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, three of which are still under consideration. In my view, none of these dealt with the similar requests correctly and all breached Regulation 19 which carries a civil penalty.
This Decision Notice has implications for all European public authorities that are bound by the Directive. In addition to disclosure upon request public authorities are bound to progressively and proactively disseminate information by electronic means. With the calls for more transparency which have come from the Climategate enquiries and that are likely to come from the InterAcademy Council Review we may hope for a far more open and transparent IPCC Fifth Assessment.
The Decision Notice will appear at the Information Commissioner’s website in a few days.
The full document is available here.