Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee
I have found out today thanks to Wikipedia about a committee that I can’t imagine many people know about.
“The subject of the Convention goes to the heart of the relationship between people and governments. The Convention is not only an environmental agreement, it is also a Convention about government accountability, transparency and responsiveness.” Source: UNECE
“All good stuff” I hear you say “…but this is a body formed by international agreement, they won’t return my calls”.
But that is what is really interesting is that unlike most (all other?) international treaties the compliance mechanism can be triggered by members of the public:
“The compliance mechanism may be triggered in four ways:
(4) members of the public may make communications concerning a Party’s compliance with the convention.” Source: UNECE
When to contact the Committee
“In considering any communication from the public, the Compliance Committee will take into account the extent to which any domestic remedy (i.e. review or appeals process) was available to the person making the communication, except where such a remedy would have been unreasonably prolonged or inadequate. Before making a communication to the Committee, the member of the public should consider whether the problem could be resolved by using such appeals mechanisms.”
In the UK it is fairly easy to appeal to the ICO although some cases take a long time to resolve so an argument could be made that it might be appropriate to communicate to the Committee. Also if the ICO will not accept that an authority is subject to the Environmental Information Regulations the ICO cannot issue a decision notice and thus no appeal can be made to the Information Tribunal. A judicial review might be considered an “unreasonably prolonged and inadequate remedy”, in fact someone has already made that argument an they have put it better than I ever could:
“Road Sense maintains that the Judicial Review process is so difficult and expensive for individuals or small associations to pursue in Scotland that it prejudices the ability of a non-governmental body to challenge decisions taken, perhaps unlawfully, by the Scottish Government” Source: UNECE and someone else has written a very detailed communication about why the UK’s judicial review process is inadequate for the purposes of the convention.
Applicability to Duchy of Lancaster case
I am keeping all my options open for the Duchy of Lancaster appeal but I am still hopeful that the ICO will make the right ruling in the first place.