In a virtually unprecedented urgent decision, the Information Commissioner has upheld a complaint by the Campaign for Clean Air in London (CCAL) regarding the government’s refusal to release full details of a meeting with the Mayor of London on air quality matters in January 2009.
CCAL’s request for the briefing papers and communications under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 was made in the belief that the requested information may call into question statements made by the government to the European Commission in relation to an application for a time extension for the UK to comply with legal standards on dangerous airborne particles (PM10) under European Directive 2008/50/EC on Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air for Europe.
While complaints to the Information Commissioner can take up to a year or more to be determined, CCAL argued in this case that there was a pressing need for urgency and – applying a new “triage” prioritisation procedure – the Information Commissioner issued a decision in less than a month, upholding CCAL’s complaint and requiring the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to release the information.
It is the first time a case has been prioritised by the Information Commissioner under the “triage” procedure, and provides a helpful precedent for other requesters frustrated by the well-publicised delays in the FOIA regime.
CCAL is advised on a pro bono basis by Gerry Facenna and Laura Elizabeth John.
Simon Birkett, founder of CCAL, said:
“The Campaign for Clean Air in London would never have succeeded on all counts in challenging the government’s refusal to release crucial information about air quality meetings without decisive advice from Gerry and Laura. By identifying the key issues and making a strong case for an urgent response from the ICO, they have broken new ground.”