We bring together information on the legal frameworks for the right to information from more than 100 countries.
You are here: Home Information of High Public Interest Public Health, Safety and the Environment

Public Health, Safety and the Environment

last modified Sep 13, 2013 12:00 AM

Overview

The laws of several countries provide, or have been interpreted by courts and/or information commission/ers to provide, that the strong public interest in protecting public health, safety, and the environment or the need to avert imminent harm to persons may outweigh business interests in confidentiality. Several cases are summarized – from Canada, Japan, Scotland, South Africa – in the section on Exceptions: Commercial Secrets: Information Relevant to Public Health, Safety, or the Environment. [not yet posted] See also Scotland: patient privacy and statistical information, under section on Exceptions: Privacy.

On 1 April, 2011 the Inter-American Commission granted precautionary measures to 10 indigenous groups against Brazil. The Commission ordered the State of Brazil to stop the construction of Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant which was claimed to have devastating influence on the environment and local indigenous groups and to conduct informed consultations with these affected groups and for that purpose to provide to them all the relevant information including impact studies on environment in accessible format and understandable language for them. A summary of the case and recent updates can be found here.

Relevant cases

 

Relevant Cases

Title:Country:Year:Court / Arbiter:
Claude Reyes et al. v. Chile Chile 2006 International / IACHR Failure of a state body to disclose information on environmental matters requested by an NGO violated the right of access to state-held information, which is an element of the right to freedom of expression (Article 13 of American Convention on Human Rights).
Environmental Foundation Ltd., v. Urban Development Authority of Sri Lanka Sri Lanka 2005 Supreme Refusal of a development agency, which is a public body, to disclose information about plans to allow a private company to develop a public beach area, violated the constitutional right to freedom of expression, speech and publication of a non-profit organization dedicated to protection of the environment, because the organization acted in the public interest in seeking more information on the proposed transaction.
IFAW Internationaler Tierschutz-Fonds gGmbH v. European Commission European Union 2012 International / EU When a person is denied access to information originating from a Member State on the basis of that state’s objection, the Court has a duty to consult disputed documents in camera to assess whether access to them could validly be refused on the basis of the exceptions provided for in Regulation 1049/2001.
Naumocheva v. Khimki Town Administration (Moscow Oblast) Russia 2011 Appellate According to the Russian RTI law everyone has the right to information about the activity of the state, including information about the exact route and dimensions of a planned highway.
Rob Evans v. Information Commissioner United Kingdom 2012 Appellate Advocacy correspondence between the heir to the throne and government ministers does not fall within constitutional convention and does not deserve special protection; correspondence in which interests of charitable enterprises are promoted concerns matters affecting public policy and the public purse and thus there is a strong public interest in its disclosure that in this case outweighs the interests in secrecy.
Stichting Greenpeace Nederland and Pesticide Action Network Europe v Commission European Union 2013 International / EU The European Commission’s refusal to grant access to documentation containing information about the pesticide glyphosate cannot be justified by reference to the commercial confidentiality or the intellectual property rights of a natural or legal person.
Trustees For the Time Being of the Biowatch Trust v. Registrar Genetic Resources and Others South Africa 2005 Appellate When denying a request for information about genetically modified corps, the burden of proof lies with the government agency. If the governmental agency is of opinion that information request is not sufficiently specific, it must assist the requester in the process.
Van Huyssteen and Others NNO v. Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and Others South Africa 1996 First instance A constitutional provision (retained in the current constitution) that every person has a right to information that is “required” for the exercise or protection of any of his or her rights should be interpreted to mean “reasonably required”.