Tuesday, November 10, 2009

DEFRA must disclose information relating to Lord Hunt and Mayor of London meeting

The Information Commissioner has ordered DEFRA to disclose information relating to a meeting between the former DEFRA minister Lord Hunt and Mayor of London Boris Johnson. The actual request was for “any minutes, papers, correspondence or other material" relating to the meeting, at which the requester believed the air quality of London and extension of the congestion charging zone were discussed.

DEFRA refused to disclose the information citing the exception for internal communications in regulation 12(4)(e) of the Environmental Information Regulations.

The IC's decision notice states:
Defra’s guidance at paragraph states that the exception applies to “government administration in the broad sense” and that “the proper scope of the exception for ‘internal communications’ is communications internal to the whole area of the state covered by the definition of ‘public authority’ in Article 2(2)”.

22. The ICO disagrees with this approach, for the following reasons:

• regulation 12(8) makes specific mention of communications between government departments being covered by this exception. This regulation would serve no purpose if any statecommunication was to be deemed internal for the purposes of regulation 12(4)(e); and

• it would extend the scope of regulation 12(4)(e) to cover any communication sent between public authorities and therefore potentially reduce the availability of information to the public.

23. Communications between two separate public authorities, for example between a central government department and a local authority, or between two local authorities, will not constitute internal communications for the purpose of regulation 12(4)(e).

24. A similar approach was taken by the Scottish Information Commissioner in his Decision 052/2008 under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (paras 57 to 63).

25. The above explanations and examples provide insight into the reasoning behind the Commissioner’s decision in this case and arguments that the Mayor of London’s office is not considered to be a government department. It is within this context that communications between Defra and the Mayor of London cannot be defined as being internal.
Read the full decision FER0272686 here.

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