An FOI Ruling More Significant than the Russell Review

Guest post by David Holland via the GWPF

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At the request of the University of East Anglia the Information Commissioner has this morning issued his Decision Notice, FER0238017, on my complaint that UEA did not deal with his 2008 requests for information in accordance with the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs).

Like other Decision Notices it formulaic and low key. However its 15 pages may turn out to be more significant for the assessment of Climate Change than the 160 page report from Sir Muir Russell’s team that has followed it.

Paragraphs 34 onwards of the Notice make clear beyond argument that information on climate change and its assessment by the IPCC is subject to the EIRs, and that UEA broke them. Paragraph 36 states:

“The Commissioner’s considers that it is not necessary for information to have a direct effect on the environment for it to fall within the definition in the EIR, only that it needs to be linked to a relevant subsection in regulation 2(1). He is of the view that the phrase “any information…on…” contained in regulation 2(1) should be interpreted widely and in line with the purpose expressed in the first recital of the Council Directive 2003/4/EC which the EIR enact.”

The Commissioner concluded that the information I requested was subject to the Regulations and that accordingly UEA had breached them, first by not issuing a refusal notice within the prescribed time, and secondly for not disclosing it.

In paragraph 51 of Other Matters, which does not form part of the DN, the Commissioner states:

“The complainant made an allegation that an offence under regulation 19 of the EIR had been committed. Although the emails referred to above indicated prime facie evidence of an offence, the Commissioner was unable to investigate because six months had passed since the potential offence was committed, a constraint placed on the legislation by the Magistrates Court Act 1980.”

My complaint to the Commissioner was one of four made to public authorities that participated in IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, three of which are still under consideration. In my view, none of these dealt with the similar requests correctly and all breached Regulation 19 which carries a civil penalty.

This Decision Notice has implications for all European public authorities that are bound by the Directive. In addition to disclosure upon request public authorities are bound to progressively and proactively disseminate information by electronic means. With the calls for more transparency which have come from the Climategate enquiries and that are likely to come from the InterAcademy Council Review we may hope for a far more open and transparent IPCC Fifth Assessment.

The Decision Notice will appear at the Information Commissioner’s website in a few days.

The full document is available here.

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30 thoughts on “An FOI Ruling More Significant than the Russell Review

  1. So is there information still outstanding which was improperly refused and which can now be requested again, and should be issued in such a case?

  2. To be honest I was disgusted when I read the passage in MR’s report on the FOI requests because it appeared to dismiss the accusation of breaking FOI laws – even though entirely the opposite had been stated by the information commissioner.

  3. Bravo! This finding is as important as the entirety of the leaked Climategate documents.

  4. Now that is some really GREAT news! Finally someone willing to stand up and force UAE to abide by the law. I hope this results in much greater transparency for climate science in the UK and globally. We can hope anyway 🙂

  5. David Holland
    Thank you very much for your persistence and formal follow through. We may all be drowning in whitewash but eventually these twisters of truth will be brought down.

  6. What is amazing is that both sides see it as complete vindication of their positions.

  7. Nothing in the ICO finding compels the UEA to produce the requested information. So its not clear to me what this finding means. Does Davbid now have to re-submit the EIR to get the information?

  8. Martin Mason says:
    “What is amazing is that both sides see it as complete vindication of their positions.”
    I would say it’s a complete vindication of alarmist policies, and a complete vindication of skeptics’ predictions.

  9. In a just world the University of East Anglia and all its colleges, faculty and subsidiary organizations would be flagged as NOT to receive any new government contracts or grants until they demonstrate that they have robust procedures which they unfailingly implement to fully comply with the FOIA.
    I will not be holding my breath on this though – it appears the lesson given by academia to students is just ignore the law and you can get away with anything.

  10. I expected this sort of white wash, how aptly named [ snip lets leave the name calling out, even if we disagree with Sir Muir -A]
    The CRU lot should all have been made to pay back to the tax payer every penny plus compound interest plus costs.

  11. Why is this ruling important? As I understand, UEA dealt with the requests under FOIA. Afterwards, David Holland made a big fuss saying that they should have been under EIR (though he didn’t make the application under those provisions).
    So what is that important difference between the FOIA and EIR processes?

  12. Willis Eschenbach says:
    July 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm (Edit)
    David, thanks for your tireless work on this. Very important decision.

    Seconded. It takes a big effort and good organisation to keep chipping away at the bureaucracy. Well done.

  13. Just one point of interest.
    On other forums there are some particularly trenchent adherents to AGW that are lauding the appointment of Phil Jones to a newly created post at the CRU on the basis that “he will no longer be subject to FOI”.
    I am not sure about the truth of that claim. I am however sure of the professional ethical conotations of such a stand.

  14. It looked to me that Phil Jones had been moved sideways both to keep him out of the heat and to keep him out of mischief without appearing to demote him.

  15. There are a few obvious ways to look at this development:
    a. Straight On
    b. With Your Head Canted to the Left
    c. With Your Head Canted to the Right
    d. Turning Around and Lowering Your Head Down to Knee Level
    For every Law that defines your right to information there are 10 that say you can’t have it. Life is very complicated. But… this development is enough to encourage us to press on. PRESS ON!

  16. Does this mean that in future instead of reading about “stolen e-mails”, I will instead see the phrase, “whistle blown e-mails that had illegally been hidden from the public eye” ?
    Methinks not.

  17. Good result. The CRU will have to share their data and methods in future, so much harder to peddle dodgy hockey sticks and inconsistent temperature to the public.
    They will have to publish, or be damned!

  18. DonS says:
    July 7, 2010 at 10:57 pm
    “Boys, I’m tired of waiting for something to die. I wanta harvest something.”
    Too funny. You reminded me of an old poster showing some vultures and one saying to the other “Patience my ass. I want to kill something!”

  19. Am I missing something, or has the entire MSM* failed to report the FOI finding? Nearly all I monitor have reported the MR inquiry “clearing” UEA. Biased reporting, much?
    *Yes, I mean MSM, not some backwater news outlets. I can’t find one.

  20. Anthony: Under American law, when a government agency violates the law by refusing to act, the statute of limitations can be suspended during the period required to determine of the refusal was proper. I suspect the British law may be similar.
    It grossly unfair and frustrates the purpose of the law if the government can do nothing while the limitations period runs and then be exonerated by its own wrongdoing. You may want to raise this point and ask for equitable relief to prevent parties from violating the EIR by tolling the statute and establishing a new six month period from the date of the decision.

  21. FOI laws and public outrage thereof are the keys to controlling corruption. This should be taken more seriously by every person everywhere.

  22. Nick Stokes says:
    July 7, 2010 at 6:15 pm
    Why is this ruling important? As I understand, UEA dealt with the requests under FOIA. Afterwards, David Holland made a big fuss saying that they should have been under EIR (though he didn’t make the application under those provisions).
    So what is that important difference between the FOIA and EIR processes?

    FOIA has a “cost” exemption, so a request may be refused if it is determined to be too expensive. EIR has no similar exemptions.

  23. Buffoon says:
    July 8, 2010 at 11:47 am
    FOI laws and public outrage thereof are the keys to controlling corruption. This should be taken more seriously by every person everywhere.
    —…—…
    But that also requires that the outrage be communicated …. and all too often, the ABBCNNBCBS media refuses to publicize the outrages, and camouflages the evil and illegal deeds.

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