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Decision of commissioner for environmental information was not vitiated by any error of law

By: Ian Fitzharris BL

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High Court, in judicial review proceedings concerning a point of law appeal decision of commissioner for environmental information setting aside a local authority's earlier decision to refuse access to the public of the appellant's waste destination data, refuses to set aside, vary or annul the decision made, on the grounds that: no error or series of errors of law have been identified by the appellant in or about the manner in which the decision-maker went about conducting the balancing exercise between refusing access to the information and permitting access in the public interest; and sufficient factors were considered on both sides of the issue by the decision-maker, who acted in accordance with his statutory obligations and powers and is entitled to an appropriate degree of curial deference.

Judicial review - decision by commissioner for environmental information (on appeal) allowing appeal and setting aside county council's decision refusing notice party access to appellant waste management company's 'waste destination data' - EU directive on public access to environmental information - disclosure of information the general rule - regulations giving effect to directive - two-step analysis regarding information disclosure - proper approach to interpretation of statutory instrument - correspondence between parties relating to grounds upon which access to information should be prevented - decision maker alive at early stage to potential that disclosure could harm appellant's commercial interests - no submission made as to way in which release of information would negatively affect appellant - material financial loss expected - invitations to make submission - appellant specifically asked to explain why it considered public interest would not be best served in granting request for release of information - whether decision maker engaged in sufficient scrutiny or consideration of how public interest would be served by disclosure of appellant's waste destination date - written decision - appeal constituted a 'fresh review' on the merits - factors for and against disclosure as considered by decision-maker - verbatim extracts - reasons for decision reached are clearly, cogently and comprehensively set out and well capable of being understood - court's role restricted to considering whether decision reached by decision maker was based on error(s) of law as pleaded - errors of fact not pleaded - no error of law contained in decision - curial deference - wide margin to decision makers - court cannot engage in question of whether or not decision maker got 'balance wrong' in weighing up question of disclosure of information - no serious and significant error or a series of such errors - decision maker not bound by rule of stare decisis - certain arguments in appellant's legal submissions do not feature in notice of motion before court - identity of requester of information and reason for requesting information were irrelevant - waste management (collection permit) regulations - decision maker fully aware of nature of records being sought - inappropriate of court to criticise decision maker for manner in which he expressed himself in decision - no 'officious scrutiny' forms no part of out law - evidence disclosures decision maker had regard to potential harm to appellant's business of release of data - nature of reliefs sought - fundamental objection is view that a different outcome should have been arrived at by decision maker when it carried out public interest balancing test pursuant to directive - wholly inappropriate for court to disturb decision carefully and lawfully arrive at by expert decision maker - relief refused

Note: This is intended to be a fair and accurate report of a decision made public by a court of law. Any errors should be notified to the editor and will be dealt with accordingly.

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