Environmental Information Regulations Applied To Duchy Of Cornwall As Public Body

An Information Tribunal ruling has applied the Environmental Information Regulations to the Duchy of Cornwall despite its protestations that it was a private body and outside the scope of the EIR. The case arose after a request made to the Duchy under the EIR for information about the possible environmental impact of non-native species of oyster being used at its oyster farm. The EIR have always run wider than their big brother the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and have applied to contractors engaged by public bodies in some circumstances.

It is the established position of the Information Commissioner that the organisation receiving a request for information whether expressed to be under FOIA, EIR or otherwise must assess whether the request is really one for environmental information (which is widely defined) and apply the EIR if it is.

The time limits and possible reasons for non-disclosure under the EIR are like the FOIA but different in significant respects, indicating a policy that environmental information is more likely to be in the public interest.

The Duchy of Cornwall described itself as a private body (commercial landowner, oyster farmer and organic biscuit-maker etc) but the Tribunal thought otherwise. Like the Duchy of Lancaster, the Duchy of Cornwall has an official place within the English law of insolvency with certain assets whose owner ceases to exist legally ending up owned by it. The identity of the Duke of Cornwall as a figure never far from the public eye may also have had some relevance in the decision.

The assessment of it as a public body could make the FOI apply to the Duchy as well as the EIR. Housing Associations are an example of bodies falling outside the FOIA but within the EIR following earlier rulings made by the ICO enforcement process. It remains to be seen whether this ruling is pushing the boundaries of public status wider.

The Forbes Business Law Team advises on EIR, FOI and Data Protection issues for clients in the public and private sectors (and those in betwen). Contact us if we can assist your organistion in dealing with requests for information.

Daniel Milnes

About Daniel Milnes

Dan is a Partner and Head of Contracts & Projects. Dan’s blogs cover the areas in which his specialities lie in commercial, regulatory and governance law which cover a broad range of matters dealing with contracts, projects, corporate and group structures, funding and compliance with a range of legal regimes including data protection. This also involves writing and advising on various forms of commercial contracts including joint ventures, development and construction agreements and intellectual property contracts including IT agreements, sponsorships and other rights licensing arrangements.
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