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The Right of Access to Environmental Information and Legal Transplant Theory: Lessons from London and Beijing

  • Sean Whittaker (a1)
Abstract

This article analyzes the potential for legal transplant theory to strengthen the legal regimes that guarantee the right of access to environmental information in England and China. Guaranteed by the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, the right has a substantial impact on how individuals can act as environmental stewards. However, despite the framework provided by the Aarhus Convention, there are shortcomings in how these states guarantee the right when compared with the obligations set by the provisions of the Convention. The article applies Alan Watson’s legal transplant theory to the environmental information regimes in England and China and considers the likelihood of each jurisdiction sourcing legal reforms from the other. It also seeks to identify common trends shared by each jurisdiction and the impact of the Aarhus Convention on such transplants.

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I gratefully acknowledge the funding provided by the Irish Research Council Postgraduate (Government of Ireland) Scholarship, without which this research would not have been possible. I would also like to thank Áine Ryall (my PhD supervisor), the two anonymous TEL reviewers, and the participants at the IV University College London (UCL)-King’s College London (KCL) Postgraduate Environmental Law Symposium, London (United Kingdom (UK)), 25 Feb. 2016, whose contributions have helped in shaping the article. Any errors remain those of the author alone.

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1 Adopted by the UN Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 3–14 June 1992, UN Doc. A/CONF.151/26 (Vol I), available at: http://www.un.org/documents/ga/conf151/aconf15126-1annex1.htm.

2 Aarhus (Denmark), 25 June 1998, in force 30 Oct. 2001, available at: http://www.unece.org/env/pp/welcome.html.

3 Case, D., ‘The Role of Information in Environmental Justice’ (2011–12) 81(4) Mississippi Law Journal, pp. 701742 , at 704–5. Examples of public participation in environmental matters include reporting potential breaches of environmental regulations, participating in environmental decision-making procedures and submitting environmental cases to court.

4 Ebbesson, J. et al., The Aarhus Convention: An Implementation Guide, 2nd edn (United Nations (UN), 2014), p. 19 .

5 Rowan-Robinson, J. et al., ‘Public Access to Environmental Information: A Means to What End?’ (1996) 8(1) Journal of Environmental Law, pp. 1942 , at 19–21.

6 A key point here is that these access to information regimes were implemented before the creation of the Aarhus Convention: Sweden implemented the Freedom of the Press Act in 1766, Finland promulgated the Act on the Openness of Public Documents in 1951, and the US implemented the Freedom of Information Act in 1966.

7 Currently, there are over 100 national regimes providing a right to information: Lemieux, V. & Trapnell, S., Public Access to Information for Development: A Guide to the Effective Implementation of Right to Information Laws (The World Bank, 2016), pp. 12 .

8 [1990] OJ L 158/56.

9 Stec, S. & Casey-Lefkowitz, S., The Aarhus Convention: An Implementation Guide (UN, 2000), Foreword.

10 Coppel, P., Information Rights: Law and Practice, 4th edn (Hart, 2014), p. 184 .

11 [2003] OJ L 41/26.

12 UK Statutory Instrument (SI) 2004/3391.

13 Scottish SI 2004/520.

14 For the purposes of narrative clarity throughout the article, the jurisdiction of England and Wales will be shortened to England.

15 Pt 6(c), Global and Regional Developments on Issues related to Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development Statement by Mr Hou, Aarhus Convention Meeting of the Parties 5, Maastricht (the Netherlands), 30 June–4 July 2014, available at: https://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/mop5/Statements/MOP-5_6c_Statement_China_University_01.pdf. See also Du, Q., ‘Public Participation and the Challenge of Environmental Justice in China’, in J. Ebbesson & P. Okowa, Environmental Law and Justice in Context (Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 139157 , at 151; and Li, L.Z., ‘Environmental Disclosure in China: A Comparative Study to the US and EU System’, Georgetown Environmental Law Review online articles, 18 May 2016, available at: https://gelr.org/2016/05/18/environmental-disclosure-in-china .

16 EU-China Environmental Governance Programme, ‘Aarhus Convention Workshop held in Beijing’, 5 Dec. 2014, available at: http://www.ecegp.com/english/news/shownews.asp?ID=878.

17 Krämer, L., ‘Transnational Access to Environmental Information’ (2012) 1(1) Transnational Environmental Law, pp. 95104 , at 100–1; and Etemire, U., ‘Insights on the UNEP Bali Guidelines and the Development of Environmental Democratic Rights’ (2016) 28(3) Journal of Environmental Law, pp. 393413 , at 402–7.

18 Ewald, W., ‘Comparative Jurisprudence (II): The Logic of Legal Transplants’ (1995) 43(4) The American Journal of Comparative Law, pp. 489510 , at 499–502.

19 Watson, A., Legal Transplants: An Approach to Comparative Law (The University of Georgia Press, 1993), p. 21 .

20 Cohler, A., Miller, B. & Stone, H. (eds), Montesquieu: The Spirit of the Laws (Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 25 .

21 Ibid. See also Legrand, P., ‘The Impossibility of Legal Transplants’ (1997) 4(2) Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law, pp. 111124 .

22 An example of this is the incorporation of Roman Law into 15th century Scotland: Watson, n. 19 above, p. 36.

23 Fedtke, J., ‘Legal Transplants’, in J. Smits (ed.), Elgar Encyclopaedia of Comparative Law (Edward Elgar, 2008), pp. 434437, at 434.

24 Watson, A., Legal Transplants: An Approach to Comparative Law (Scottish Academic Press, 1974).

25 Watson, A., The Evolution of Law (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), p. 93 .

26 Ibid., p. 115. The ‘legal elite’ can include jurists, politicians, legal academics and judges.

27 Watson, n. 19 above, p. 55.

28 Ibid., p. 95.

29 Watson, A., ‘Aspects of Reception of Law’ (1996) 44(2) The American Journal of Comparative Law, pp. 335351 , at 335.

30 Morin, J.-F. & Gold, E., ‘An Integrated Model of Legal Transplantation: The Diffusion of Intellectual Property Law in Developing Countries’ (2014) 58(4) International Studies Quarterly, pp. 781792 , at 782.

31 Ibid., pp. 782–3.

32 Watson, n. 25 above, p. 95.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid., p. 118.

35 Bentham, J., ‘Chapter II: Of Publicity’, in J. Bowring (ed.), The Works of Jeremy Bentham, Vol 2 (William Tait, 1838–43), s. 1(1), pp. 309312 .

36 Larus, E., Politics & Society in Contemporary China (Lynne Rienner, 2012), p. 108 .

37 Marx, K., Critique of the Gotha Programme (Lawrence and Wishart, 1875) Pt IV, p. 28 .

38 Head, J., ‘Opposing Legal Transparency in Dynastic China: The Persuasive Logic of Confucianist Views on Legal Opaqueness’, in P. Ala’i & R. Vaughn (eds), Research Handbook on Transparency (Edward Elgar, 2014), pp. 115139 , at 123.

39 UN Economic and Social Council, Report of the Compliance Committee on its Twenty-Sixth Meeting, Addendum, Findings and Recommendations with Regard to Communication ACCC/C/2008/24 concerning Compliance by Spain, UN Doc. ECE/MP.PP/C.1/2009/8/Add.1, 8 Feb. 2011, para. 77, available at: http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/compliance/CC-26/ece_mp.pp_c.1_2009_8_add.1_e.pdf.

40 Pennycook, A., The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language (Routledge, 2014), p. 7 .

41 Wenjing, L., ‘Approaching Democracy Through Transparency: A Comparative Law Study of Chinese Open Government Information’ (2011) 26(4) The American University International Law Review, pp. 9831007 , at 987.

42 Langer, M., ‘From Legal Transplants to Legal Translations: The Globalization of Plea Bargaining and the Americanization Thesis in Criminal Procedure’ (2004) 45(1) Harvard International Law Journal, pp. 165 , at 5.

43 Watson, n. 19 above, p. 20.

44 Ebbesson et al., n. 4 above, p. 19.

45 Aarhus Convention, n. 2 above, Art. 2.

46 Ibid., Art. 4.

47 Ibid., Art. 9.

48 N. 11 above.

49 European Commission, ‘EU-China Environmental Governance Programme’, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/projects/eu-china-environmental-governance-programme_en.

50 Adopted by the State Council on 17 Jan. 2007, in force 1 May 2008; available at: https://www.cecc.gov/resources/legal-provisions/regulations-of-the-peoples-republic-of-china-on-open-government.

51 Adopted by the State Environmental Protection Administration of China on 8 Feb. 2007, in force 1 May 2008, available at: https://www.cecc.gov/resources/legal-provisions/measures-on-open-environmental-information-trial-cecc-full-translation.

52 Williams, R., ‘China’s Transparency Two-Step: Reform and Control in the Wake of the Fourth Plenum’, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs online articles, 26 Nov. 2014, available at: http://journal.georgetown.edu/chinas-transparency-two-step-reform-and-control-in-the-wake-of-the-fourth-plenum .

53 Economy, E., ‘How Long Can China Keep Pollution Data a Secret?’, ChinaFile, 27 Feb. 2013, available at: http://www.chinafile.com/conversation/how-long-can-china-keep-pollution-data-state-secret; ‘Report: One Fifth of China’s Soil Contaminated’, BBC News, 18 Apr. 2014, available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-27076645 .

54 Yongxi, C., ‘An Empty Promise of Freedom of Information? Assessing the Legislative and Judicial Protection of the Right to Access Government Information in China’, PhD Thesis, University of Hong Kong, Sept. 2013, p. 116, available at: http://hub.hku.hk/handle/10722/197074 .

55 Aarhus Convention, n. 2 above, Art. 2(2); Directive 2003/4/EC, n. 11 above, Art. 2(2).

56 Ebbesson et al., n. 4 above, p. 46.

57 EIR, n. 12 above, reg. 2(2)(a).

58 Ibid., reg. 2(2)(b).

59 Ibid., reg. 2(2)(c).

60 Ibid., reg. 2(2)(d).

61 Ibid., reg. 3(3). This is because legislative bodies are open to scrutiny via democratic accountability: Ebbesson et al., n. 4 above, p. 49.

62 EIR, n. 12 above, reg. 3(4).

63 Case C-279/12, Fish Legal and Emily Shirley v. Information Commissioner and Others, Judgment, 19 Dec. 2013, ECLI:EU:C:2013:853, para. 56.

64 Ibid., para 68.

65 Reid, C., ‘Case Comment: Information and Public Authorities’ (2015) Scottish Planning and Environmental Law, pp. 6263 , at 63.

66 OGI, n. 50 above, Art. 13.

67 MOEI, n. 51 above, Art. 5.

68 OGI, n. 50 above, Art. 36.

69 Ibid., Art. 37.

70 The number of public–private partnerships in China is increasing: Thieriot, H. & Dominguez, C., Public-Private Partnerships in China: On 2014 as a Landmark Year, with Past and Future Challenges – Discussion Paper (International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2015). However, in these partnerships government departments are reluctant to give away power to private entities: Zhang, S. et al., ‘PPP Application in Infrastructure Development in China: Institutional Analysis and Implications’ (2015) 33(3) International Journal of Project Management, pp. 497509, at 507.

71 Mason, M., ‘Information Disclosure and Environmental Rights: The Aarhus Convention’ (2010) 10(3) Global Environmental Politics, pp. 1031 , at 13.

72 Ebbesson et al., n. 4 above, p. 49.

73 Tang, Y., ‘Feeling for Rocks while Crossing the River: An Analysis of the Statutory Language of China’s First Freedom of Information Law’ (2014) 4 Journal of Information Policy, pp. 342376 , at 351.

74 Yongxi, n. 54 above, p. 116.

75 Ibid.

76 Ebbesson et al., n. 4 above, p. 46.

77 Fish Legal, n. 63 above, para. 51.

78 Zhang, n. 70 above, p. 507.

79 Ebbesson et al., n. 4 above, p. 46.

80 Johnson, T., ‘Environmental Information Disclosure in China: Policy Development and NGO Responses’ (2011) 39(3) Policy and Politics, pp. 399416 , at 401; Hoffman, S. & Sullivan, J., ‘Environmental Protests Expose Weakness in China’s Leadership’, Forbes, 22 June 2015, available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesasia/2015/06/22/environmental-protests-expose-weakness-in-chinas-leadership/#58b74a6b2f09 .

81 Aarhus Convention, n. 2 above, Art. 4(3)(a).

82 Ibid., Art. 4(3)(c).

83 Ibid., Art. 4(3)(b).

84 Ibid., Art. 4(4)(b).

85 Ibid., Art. 4(4)(e).

86 Ibid., Art. 4(4)(d).

87 Ibid., Art. 4(4)(h).

88 Directive 2003/4/EC, n. 11 above, Art. 4(1)–(2).

89 Ibid., Art. 4(2); Aarhus Convention, n. 2 above, Art. 4(4).

90 Aarhus Convention, n. 2 above, Art. 4(4); Directive 2003/4/EC, n. 11 above, Art. 4(2).

91 EIR, n. 12 above, reg. 12.

92 Ibid., reg. 12(4) and reg. 12(5).

93 Ibid., reg. 12(2).

94 Ibid., reg. 12(1)(b).

95 Information Commissioner’s Office, ‘The Guide to the Environmental Information Regulations’, 30 Oct. 2015, p. 28, available at: https://ico.org.uk/media/for-organisations/guide-to-the-environmental-information-regulations-2-4.pdf.

96 Office of Communications v. Information Commissioner [2009] EWCA Civ 90, para. 56.

97 Case C-71/10, Office of Communications v. Information Commissioner, Judgment, 28 July 2011, ECLI:EU:C:2011:525, [2011] ECR I-07205, para. 25.

98 Aarhus Convention, n. 2 above, Art. 4(4).

99 Code of Practice on the Discharge of the Obligation of Public Authorities under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, Feb. 2005, para. 30, available at: https://ico.org.uk/media/1644/environmental_information_regulations_code_of_practice.pdf.

100 Office of Communications v. Information Commissioner, Everything Everywhere Ltd and National Policing Improvement Agency, Appeal No. EA/2006/0078, para. 90.

101 EIR, n. 12 above, reg. 12(5)(a).

102 Ibid., reg. 12(6).

103 Aarhus Convention, n. 2 above, Art. 4(7); Directive 2003/4/EC, n. 11 above, Art. 3(4).

104 EIR, n. 12 above, reg. 12(5)(e).

105 Roy Jones (on behalf of Swansea Friends of the Earth) v. Information Commissioner, Appeal No. EA/2011/0156.

106 Coco v. A.N. Clark (Engineers) Ltd [1968] FSR 415, 419 (emphasis added). The other two requirements are that the information must have the ‘necessary quality of confidence’ and be ‘an authorized use of the information to the detriment of the communicating party’.

107 The Chinese exemptions are given a broad definition under the OGI and the MOEI. For academic critique on this see Horsley, J., Some Thoughts on Typical Exemptions from Government Information Disclosure (Yale Law School, 2009), p. 7, available at: http://www.law.yale.edu/documents/pdf/Intellectual_Life/CL-OGI_Horsley_Some_Thoughts_on_Typical_Exemtions_from_Govoernment_Information_Disclosure_2009.pdf .

108 OGI, n. 50 above, Art. 14; MOEI, n. 51 above, Art. 12.

109 OGI, ibid., Art. 14; MOEI, ibid., Art. 12. As far as the literature indicates, there is no appreciable difference between the two terms in this context.

110 OGI, ibid., Art. 14; MOEI, ibid., Art. 12.

111 OGI, ibid., Art. 8; MOEI, ibid., Art. 10.

112 OGI, ibid., Art. 8; MOEI, ibid., Art. 10.

113 OGI, ibid., Art. 21(2); MOEI, ibid., Art. 17(2).

114 Economy, n. 53 above.

115 Access to Environmental Information in China: Evaluation of Local Compliance (Article 19 and Centre for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims, 2010), p. 18, available at: https://www.article19.org/data/files/pdfs/reports/access-to-environmental-information-in-china-evaluation-of-local-compliance.pdf.

116 OGI, n. 50 above, Art. 8; MOEI, n. 51 above, Art. 10.

117 Yongxi, n. 54 above, p. 152.

118 Ibid., p. 155.

119 Ibid., p. 153.

120 OGI, n. 50 above, Art. 21(2); MOEI, n. 51 above, Art. 17(2).

121 Horsley, n. 107 above, p. 2.

122 Ibid.

123 Indeed, this has already occurred in China when the Ministry of Environmental Protection refused to disclose a Soil Contamination Report which showed that one-fifth of arable land in China is contaminated: Economy, n. 53 above.

124 Yongxi, n. 54 above, p. 335.

125 Aarhus Convention, n. 2 above, Art. 4(4).

126 EIR, n. 12 above, reg. 12(1)(b).

127 Yongxi, n. 54 above, p. 335.

128 Ibid., p. 342.

129 Ibid.

130 This can also be seen in the US, where there is no ‘imparting’ requirement and a substantial degree of federal environmental work is undertaken by private enterprises: Lamdan, S., ‘Sunshine for Sale: Environmental Contractors and the Freedom of Information Act’ (2013–14) 15(2) Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, pp. 135 , at 5.

131 Thieriot & Dominguez, n. 70 above, p. 4.

132 OGI, n. 50 above, Art. 21(2); MOEI, n. 51 above, Art. 17(2).

133 Hoffman & Sullivan, n. 80 above.

134 Wu, F., ‘Environmental Activism in Provincial China’ (2013) 15(1) Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, pp. 89108 ; Tang, S. & Zhan, X., ‘Civic Environmental NGOs, Civil Society and Democratisation in China’ (2008) 44(3) Journal of Development Studies, pp. 425448 .

135 While not within the scope of this article, this raises an interesting question regarding the nature of legal transplants, and whether the definition of what constitutes a legal transplant should be enlarged to include reforms that are based on the general aims and spirit of the laws of the donor system.

136 Marx, n. 37 above, p. 2.

137 Watson, n. 19 above, p. 95.

I gratefully acknowledge the funding provided by the Irish Research Council Postgraduate (Government of Ireland) Scholarship, without which this research would not have been possible. I would also like to thank Áine Ryall (my PhD supervisor), the two anonymous TEL reviewers, and the participants at the IV University College London (UCL)-King’s College London (KCL) Postgraduate Environmental Law Symposium, London (United Kingdom (UK)), 25 Feb. 2016, whose contributions have helped in shaping the article. Any errors remain those of the author alone.

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