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ENVIRONMENT INCLUDED IN FREEDOM OF INFORMATION BILL

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A consultation paper has been launched seeking the public's views on freedom of environmental information following...
A consultation paper has been launched seeking the public's views on freedom of environmental information following the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill through the Scottish parliament.

The proposalsfor a new regime on access would give people significantly increased rights to be able to find information about pollution and the environment. They build upon the proposals in the United Nations' Aarhus Convention.

Minister for environment and rural development Ross Finnie said:

'The executive is committed to freedom of information and to greater openness and transparency. Openness is central to a modern, mature and democratic society and serves to strengthen government and empower people.

'Making more environmental information available to the public will increase awareness of environmental matters and allow individuals to make informed decisions about issues in their local area. Our proposals build on those in the Aarhus Convention and would provide a particularly open and robust regime of freedom of environmental information.'

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill , which was recently passed by the Scottish parliament, will provide for new Environmental Information Regulations which would also include a 'substantial prejudice' harm test to be administered by the new independent Scottish information commissioner.

On June 25, 1998, the UNECE Convention on Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention) was adopted at a European environment ministers' meeting in Aarhus, Denmark. The Convention was signed by 37 countries, including all 15 EU member states and the European Commission. It came into force on October 30 last year.

It covers three 'pillars' - access to information; public participation; and access to justice - in environmental matters.

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