Coillte Cuideachta Ghníomhaíochta Ainmnithe v Commissioner of Environmental Information

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeHumphreys J.
Judgment Date24 January 2024
Neutral Citation[2024] IEHC 28
CourtHigh Court
Docket Number[HC.MCA.2022.0000278]

In the Matter of Order 84C of the Rules of the Superior Courts and Regulation 13 of the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 to 2014 (By Order)

Between
Coillte Cuideachta Ghníomhaíochta Ainmnithe
Appellant
and
Commissioner for Environmental Information
Respondent

and

Person(s) unknown Aka John and/or Jane Doe, Ireland and The Attorney General (By Order)
Notice Parties

and

Right to Know Clg
Amicus Curiae

[2024] IEHC 28

[HC.MCA.2022.0000278]

THE HIGH COURT

PLANNING & ENVIRONMENT

(No. 2)

JUDGMENT of Humphreys J. delivered on Wednesday the 24th day of January, 2024

Subject-matter of the dispute
1

. This request for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Articles 2(5), 3(1) and (5)(c), 4(1)(b) and 6(1) of Directive 2003/4.

2

. The request is being made in proceedings concerning an appeal to the High Court by Coillte against a decision of the Commissioner for Environmental Information which in essence held that apparently anonymous or pseudonymous requests for information under Directive 2003/4 were nonetheless valid.

Legal context
European Union law
3

. The following provisions of EU law are relevant:

(i) The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters done at Aarhus on 25 June 1998 (“Aarhus Convention”), as a part of EU law ( https://unece.org/DAM/env/pp/documents/cep43e.pdf), particularly:

(a). Article 2(4);

(b). Article 4(1) to (3); and

(c). Article 9(1).

(iv) Directive 2003/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2003 on public access to environmental information and repealing Council Directive 90/313/EEC (OJ L 41/26, 14/2/2003) particularly:

(a). Article 2;

(b). Article 3;

(c). Article 4; and

(d). Article 6.

4

. EU case law relevant to the issues includes the following:

  • (i) Judgment of 16 December 1976, Rewe v Landwirschaftskammer fur das Saarland, C-33/76 ECLI:EU:C:1976:188 ( https://curia.europa.eu/juris/showPdf.jsf?text=&docid=89192&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=7404984);

  • (ii) Judgment of 17 June 1998, Mecklenburg v Kreis Pinneberg, C-321/96, ECLI:EU:C:1998:300 ( https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=43940&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=7410618);

  • (iii) Opinion of the Advocate General of 28 January 1999, Commission v Germany, C-217/97, ECLI:EU:C:1999:34 ( https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?docid=44395&doclang=EN&mode=&part=1);

  • (iv) Judgment of 24 September 2002, Grundig Italiana, C-255/00, ECLI:EU:C:2002:525 ( https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=47690&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=1018533);

  • (v) Judgment of 25 March 2004, Azienda Agricola Ettore Raffa and Others, C-482/00 (Joined cases C-480/00, C-481/00, C-482/00, C-484/00, C-489/00, C-490/00, C-491/00, C-498/00, C-499/00, ECLI:EU:C:2004:179 ( https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=49022&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=1026789);

  • (vi) Judgment of 13 April 2005, Verein für Konsumenteninformation v Commission of the European Communities, T-2/03, ECLI:EU:T:2005:125 ( https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=60314&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=7409764);

  • (vii) Judgment of 16 June 2005, Maria Pupino, C-105/03, ECLI:EU:C:2005:386 (Grand Chamber) ( https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=59363&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=7409325);

  • (viii) Judgment of 22 June 2010, Melki & Abedi, C-188/10 ECLI:EU:C:2010:363 ( https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=80748&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=7407421);

  • (ix) Judgment of 14 February 2012, Flachglas Torgau v Bundesrepublik Deutschland, C-204/09, ECLI:EU:C:2012:71 ( https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=119426&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=7408798);

  • (x) Judgment of 19 December 2013, Fish Legal and Shirley v Information Commissioner, C-279/12, ECLI:EU:C:2013:853 ( https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=145904&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=7409121);

  • (xi) Judgment of 15 March 2018, North East Pylon Pressure Campaign Limited v. An Bord Pleanála, C 470/16, ECLI:EU:C:2018:185 ( https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=200265&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=7817550); and

  • (xii) Judgment of 20 January 2021, Land Baden-Wurttemberg (Communications Internes), C-619/19, ECLI:EC:C:2021:35 ( https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf;jsessionid= 18145EB5575C3BBA145C9614CB714BD3?text=&docid=236684&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=1017760).

5

. Other materials include:

  • (i) Kirin-Amgen Inc and Others v. Hoechst Marion Roussel Limited and Others [2004] UKHL 46, [2005] RPC 169, ( https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200304/ldjudgmt/jd041021/kirin-1.htm); and

  • (ii) the UNECE publication, The Aarhus Convention: An Implementation Guide (2nd Ed., UN, 2014) at pp. 55–56 ( https://unece.org/environment-policy/publications/aarhus-convention-implementation-guide-second-edition).

Domestic law
6

. The transposing legislation, the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 to 2014 are consolidated at https://revisedacts.lawreform.ie/eli/ 2007/si/133/front/revised/en/html.

7

. It should be noted that the respondents' website ( https://www.ocei.ie/en/collection/148e9-legislation/#aie-regulations, archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20240116224437/https://www.ocei.ie/en/collection/148e9-legislation/#aie-regulations) incorrectly references these regulations as the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 to 2018, merely because they were most recently amended in 2018. This misunderstands the concept of a collective citation. The amendment of an enactment does not in itself update the collective citation. The latest collective citation was provided by the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 ( S.I. No. 615 of 2014), art. 2, and remains the 2007 to 2014 regulations. The citation has not been updated since then, either by the 2018 regulations or otherwise. Hence the title to the present proceedings in the originating notice of motion is incorrect by referring to a non-existent collective citation. The referring court will make an order correcting this before matters go further.

8

. Article 6 allows the making of a request for information on the environment:

“Request for environmental information

6. (1) A request for environmental information shall—

(a) be made in writing or electronic form,

(b) state that the request is made under these Regulations,

(c) state the name, address and any other relevant contact details of the applicant,

(d) state, in terms that are as specific as possible, the environmental information that is the subject of the request, and

(e) if the applicant desires access to environmental information in a particular form or manner, specify the form or manner of access desired.

(2) An applicant shall not be required to state his or her interest in making the request.”

9

. Insofar as Article 6(1)(c) of the 2007 regulations requires a “name” and “address”, the referring court is determining that as a matter of domestic law, and unless a conforming interpretation to the contrary is required by EU law, “name” means actual name and not a pseudonym, and “address” means a current physical address at which the requester may be contacted, although not necessarily a residential address. Details of an email address if any would arise only under the phrase “any other relevant contact details”.

10

. Article 7 provides for the mechanics of making an appeal:

“Action on request

7. (1) A public authority shall, notwithstanding any other statutory provision and subject only to these Regulations, make available to the applicant any environmental information, the subject of the request, held by, or for, the public authority.

(2) (a) A public authority shall make a decision on a request and, where appropriate, make the information available to the applicant as soon as possible and, at the latest, but subject to paragraph (b) and subarticle (10), not later than one month from the date on which such request is received by the public authority concerned.

(b) Where a public authority is unable, because of the volume or complexity of the environmental information requested, to make a decision within one month from the date on which such request is received, it shall, as soon as possible and at the latest, before the expiry of that month—

(i) give notice in writing to the applicant of the reasons why it is not possible to do so, and

(ii) specify the date, not later than 2 months from the date on which the request was received, by which the response shall be made,

and make a decision on the request and, where appropriate, make the information available to the applicant by the specified date.

(3) (a) Where a request has been made to a public authority for access to environmental information in a particular form or manner, access shall be given in that form or manner unless—

(i) the information is already available to the public in another form or manner that is easily accessible, or

(ii) access in another form or manner would be reasonable.

(b) Where a public authority decides to make available environmental information other than in the form or manner specified in the request, the reason therefore shall be given by the public authority in writing.

(4) Where a decision is made to refuse, in whole or in part, a...

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