The European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 came into operation on May 1, 2007.
Since then, public bodies have been dealing with two different access regimes for access to information on the environment – the freedom of information legislation and the AIE Regulations.
However, perhaps there is less for public bodies to contend with than at might first appear. In fact, the approach to access to information on litter, whether under FOI or AIE, is quite similar. Access to information sought must be granted, unless a relevant exception can be found to apply. The relevant exceptions are quite similar under both FOI and AIE legislation, and consideration must, almost always, be given to the public interest test.
Further, both regimes place an obligation on public bodies to assist those making requests under either scheme, and to inform them of their rights of access to information under the schemes.
In addition, there is an overriding obligation of disclosure under both regimes – if a public body receives a request for access to information under either scheme; its approach must be to grant access to the information sought, unless it can identify an exemption provision on which to base a refusal.
In relation to exemption provisions, the two schemes mirror each other quite closely. Taking access to information on litter as an example, both regimes contain exemption provisions that protect, with some exceptions, records that relate to the deliberations, functions and negotiations of public bodies, parliamentary, court and course of justice matters, law enforcement and public safety, and personal information – all of which may have a bearing on the release of the information concerned.
Therefore, despite the AIE Regulations being of EU origin and the FOI legislation being of domestic origin, much the same result is achieved under both schemes. The issue of access to information on litter and the interaction of the AIE and FOI legislation is considered in further detail in my article Access to Information on Litter, published in the summer edition of the Irish Planning and Environmental Law Journal.