Wuthering Moors 31

Blogs entitled ‘Wuthering Moors’ form a series of articles about the Walshaw Moor Estate and its relationship with Natural England and Defra.

Regular readers of this blog may remember that I submitted a request for information to Defra about their response to the RSPB complaint to Europe over the Walshaw Moor affair.

I received no acknowledgement from Defra and meant to give them a jolly big nudge just before I left for the USA in mid-May – but I didn’t get around to it.  Imagine my delight, then, when on the day of the summer solstice, when I had a rather grotty evening in Deming, NM, in a motel whose wifi didn’t work (at least for me), eating in a Denny’s because everywhere else had shut by 8pm I received this from Defra.

They appear to be invoking the 5th amendment.

I shall complain to Defra that they failed to acknowledge my enquiry, failed to answer it in a timely manner and failed to give me information that my taxes have paid for and in which there is a legitimate public interest.  If you would like to complain too, now knowing about this matter, then please feel free to contact the Head of Information Standards, Area 4D, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR (email: requestforinfo@defra.gsi.gov.uk) and say that you agree with me.


Dear Mark
Thank you for your request for information about the above, which we received on 11 April via Twitter and your blog. We have handled your request under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs).
The EIRs apply to requests for environmental information, which is a broad category of information defined in regulation 2 of the EIRs. Public authorities are required to handle requests for environmental information under the EIRs. They give similar access rights to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).
The information you requested is being withheld as it falls under the exception in regulation 12 (5)(a) of the EIRs, which relates to international relations.
In applying this/these exception, we have had to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosure.
We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosure of information concerning discussions between the EU Commission and Defra about third party complaints as this could further public understanding of the cases being considered.
On the other hand, there is a strong public interest in withholding the information because its disclosure could undermine our position in discussions with international organisations and prejudice potential legal processes.
Therefore, we have concluded that in all the circumstances of the case, the information should be withheld.
I attach an annex giving contact details should you be unhappy with the service you have received.
If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me.


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17 Replies to “Wuthering Moors 31”

  1. Fortunately with this shambolic Government there is always help in wending your way through the maze of their chaotic thinking and attempts to cover their backs and shift the blame.

    In this case the inimitable William Hague has come to our aid: 'If you've nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear.'

    Clearly Defra have something worth hiding.

    1. A very good point Roderick. Unfortunately, the way the government applies this sentiment is to justify ever greater intrusion into our privacy but not, sadly, greater transparency with respect to what they are doing themselves.

  2. Mark

    They cite potential legal proceedings as a reason for refusal whereas the wording in the EIR 2004 (Regulation 12(5)(b)) states "course of justice" which in my opinion implies that proceedings have started. Thus, my argument would be that refusing to release the info on potential grounds would effectively mean that any information could be retained from public scrutiny on the basis that it could potentially be used in future potential legal proceedings. I would advocate that the legislators could not possibly have had this in mind and that this is too broad an interpretation of Regulation 12(5)(b).
    Carol Day who wrote a blog on the Aarhus Convention at the beginning of May (https://markavery.info/2013/05/07/uk-environmental-democracy-aarhus/) may possibly be able to advise; maybe she is reading this blog entry?

    I think it is also worth exploring whether there is EU Case-law on this area that can inform you if the response sufficiently robust in law to stand on its merits.

    I'd keep pursuing and try the argument put forward above unless someone can rebut it who knows more about these things than me. However, remember that the law is just a human artefact based on arguments; and whoever has the more persuasive/ stronger argument normally prevails...

  3. If after you have asked Defra to undertake an internal review they have still not released the information you are looking for, then you can take the matter to the Information Commissioners Office http://www.ico.org.uk/. They have independent powers and if they believe there is a case to answer can require the release of information. As I think I said before (some while ago) you could also ask the EU Comission to release the info. There is no guarantee they would take the same line as Defra. Of course none of this helps if you want to do anything quickly!

    1. AdamM - thank you. I shall go to the Information Commissioner when (I don't think it's if) I don't get a satisfactory reply from Defra.

      1. It probably will be when, Mark. In my experience once an institution has dug it's heels in it is very unlikely they will change their minds. The delays in getting your reply will have been, just as a guess, caused by it crossing several busy lawyers/mandarins desks.

  4. So they aren’t the greenest government ever and they are also not whiter than white either.

    1. Gongfarmer - precisely! Look like either a department with something to hide or one that doesn't give a damn about the public for whom they work.

  5. This is worth a read today: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23246445

    What happened to the polluter pays principle?

    1. Bunch of scroungers.There's nobody like the rich for claiming benefits. But as we all know, this government believes in the carrot and the stick. If you own a shooting estate it's the carrot, and if you live on a housing estate it's the stick.

  6. I kind of see where Defra is coming from with it's reasons for not supplying the information you requested, IF a prosecution was to come from the information that you had asked for. If they had supplied it, it would be on your blog, twitter feed etc maybe even a daily national, then a defence lawyer could easily argue that a fair trial wouldn't/might not be possible as the Jury may have read details/opinions etc and thus biased....however that's IF a prosecution is forthcoming, no news on that?
    Perhaps Mark you should also ask what stage the investigation is at, if anyone has been questioned/interviewed as well as the information Defra is with holding.
    Also I mentioned last time I had a similar problem but with the Data information act and it was only after a formal application from a lawyer did I get the information.

  7. I wonder what the EU Commission might say if you asked them for their half of the conversation?
    There is a wee case brewing in Scotland which involves the destruction of a chunk of SPA...this will prove interesting too...

  8. I've complained, said I agree with you Mark, and asked for further information. I await my duplicated, standardised reply sometime in the next 4 months.....


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