Climate change: No right to know effect of new EU rules

16 November 2011 by

Sinclair v Information Commissioner and Department of Energy and Climate Change EA/2011/0052 (08 November 2011) – Read ruling

The Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (“EIR”) did not require the Department of Energy and Climate Change (“DECC”) to disclose information concerning the government’s analysis of the potential cost to the UK of strengthened climate change commitments by the EU, the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber, Information Rights) has held.

In March 2007, the EU announced a target to reduce emissions by 20 percent on 1990 levels by 2020 and increase it to 30 percent under certain conditions. The issue of whether the EU would accept the increased target was debated during the 2009 Copenhagen Conference, but not agreed upon. It therefore remains a live issue.

The UK’s share of a 30 percent target for the EU will be determined by burden-sharing negotiations between Member States once an increased EU commitment has been agreed. However, there was a suggestion at the time of the Copenhagen Conference, stemming from a report by Lord Turner’s non-governmental Committee on Climate Change which was picked up by the media, that the enhanced EU commitment would translate into a 42 percent target for the UK. The UK Government, itself, has refrained from publishing any analyses or estimates of the likely burden on the UK of an increased EU target.

In response to a request by the Appellant for the disclosure of any analysis concerning the potential costs of enlarged climate change commitments at Copenhagen, DECC confirmed that it held information within the scope of the request but declined to disclose it on the basis that the information came within the exceptions in the EIR to the duty to disclose environmental information. In particular, DECC relied on Regulation 12(4)(e) (the information comprises of internal communications) and Regulation 12(5)(a) (disclosure would adversely affect international relations).

Regulation 12 of the EIR allows public authorities to withhold disclosure where one or more of the exceptions in the Regulation apply and in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exception outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

Following the dismissal of his complaint by the Information Commissioner, the Appellant appealed to the First-tier Tribunal.

Before the Tribunal, the Appellant contended, amongst other things, that the disclosure was required by the freedom of expression guarantee in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to freedom of expression and information.

Reference was made to various European Court of Human Rights cases including the Second Chamber’s decision in Társaság a Szabadságjogokért v Hungary [2009] ECHR 618, where Hungary conceded that a pressure group’s attempt to obtain details of a parliamentarian’s complaint to the Constitutional Court engaged Article 10. The Tribunal was however not convinced that there was clear Strasbourg authority for the proposition that Article 10 conferred a right to obtain documents such as those in the instant case. It held that in any event it would have found any restrictions on the right to be justified.

The Tribunal went on to hold that

  • (a) both of the aforementioned exceptions were engaged,
  • (b) in respect of a paper prepared for the Prime Minister’s ad hoc committee, the public interest in disclosure was outweighed by the public interest in maintaining the internal communications exception, because of the impact on collective cabinet responsibility, and
  • (c) as regards all the items within the scope of the request, the public interest in maintaining the international relations exception outweighed the public interest in disclosure.

The Tribunal accepted DECC’s evidence that whilst there was a strong public interest in having a debate about the costs of an increased target, the Turner report figures provided a robust basis for that debate and the premature publication of the Government’s internal views on the costs would not add very much. It would, moreover, significantly prejudice the UK’s position in ongoing negotiations and harm its relationship with certain countries whose interests would be affected by the UK’s position.

The Appellant sought to draw a distinction between disclosure which would annoy other states and thereby harm UK relations with them and disclosure which would merely weaken the UK’s position in international negotiations. The Appellant argued that whilst the former came within the scope of the international relations exception, the latter did not as it could not “adversely affect…international relations”. The Tribunal noted that on the facts, the disclosure would have annoyed certain states and therefore come within the narrower construction of the exception. However, it went on to positively reject that construction, and added that despite the need to construe exceptions restrictively:

We do not consider that the term ‘international relations’ can properly be confined to how favourably or otherwise other states view the UK; rather, it covers all aspects of relations between the UK and other states or international organisations. (§20)

The Tribunal, accordingly, dismissed the Appeal.

Sign up to free human rights updates by email, Facebook, Twitter or RSS

Related posts

Welcome to the UKHRB

This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.




Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals Anne Sacoolas anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board care homes Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common law communications competition confidentiality consent conservation constitution contact order contact tracing contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus coronavirus act 2020 costs costs budgets Court of Protection covid crime criminal law Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation DEFRA deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention Dignitas diplomacy diplomatic relations disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Facial Recognition Family Fatal Accidents Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage gay rights Gaza Gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Gun Control hague convention Harry Dunn Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Human Rights Watch Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests insurance international law internet inuit Iran Iraq Ireland islam Israel Italy IVF ivory ban Japan joint enterprise judaism judicial review Judicial Review reform Julian Assange jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legal aid cuts Leveson Inquiry lgbtq liability Libel Liberty Libya lisbon treaty Lithuania local authorities marriage Media and Censorship mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery morocco murder music Muslim nationality national security naturism neuroscience NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance Obituary ouster clauses parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury physician assisted death Piracy Plagiarism planning planning system Poland Police Politics Pope press prison Prisoners prisoner votes Prisons privacy procurement Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecutions prostituton Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries quarantine Radicalisation refugee rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania round-up Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials sexual offence shamima begum Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance sweatshops Syria Tax technology Terrorism The Round Up tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal credit universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Weekly Round-up Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: