Legislative restrictions on access to environmental information?

In 2005 the Aarhus Compliance Committee, made up of internally recognized lawyers, found that Ukraine was violating the requirements of the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters.

Since that time, with the support of the Committee, Ukraine has been drawing up new legislation aimed at improving the situation and ensuring implementation of the Aarhus Convention.  The draft law “On amendments to Article 25 of the Law of Ukraine “On the protection of the national environment” with regard to defining environmental information intended to introduce the provision regarding environmental information given in the Convention into domestic legislation. The draft law achieves this, yet only superficially.

The first paragraph of the draft law proposes to get rid of the equating in legislation of the terms “environmental information” and “information about the state of the natural environment”, with this, if the law is passed, undermining a number of domestic guarantees for openness of such information. At the present time domestic provisions prohibiting the classification of environmental information use the term “information about the state of the natural environment”, yet as a result of the above-mentioned equating of this with the term “environmental information”, these guarantees would extent to the entire spectrum of information indicated in Article 2 of the Convention. Article 2 of the Aarhus Convention gives a definition of environmental information and defines information about the state of the environment merely as one type of such information. If the draft law is adopted as it stands now, the ban on classifying as secret environmental information will apply only to information about the state of the environment in its literal meaning.

In October 2009 the organization “Environment, People, Law” [EPL] submitted comments and pointed out the flaws in the draft law to the Ministry for Environmental Protection which is the body responsible for drawing up the draft law. The comments were not taken into consideration. Recently EPL presented its legal assessment of the draft law to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee which will at its next meeting be reviewing the proposed draft law from the point of view of its compliance with the Convention as regards access to environmental information.

To be continued ….

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