Publish and be damned? Commercial bloggers.

GuidoFawkesGunpowderPlot

Guido Fawkes (Gunpowder Plot)

In my first post on the draft Royal Charter for Self-Regulation of the Press (the “Royal Charter”) and amendments tabled for consideration in the Crime and Courts Bill (the “Amendments”) published on Monday, 18 March 2013, I stated that as a private blogger, they would not worry or concern me.

What about commercial blogs and bloggers?

The Royal Charter definition of “relevant publisher” makes no distinction between personal or commercial blogs. It catches any blog which publishes news-related material. This includes publishers based outside of the UK, if it is determined that the news-related material on the blog is directed at the UK. For example, Global and General Nominees Ltd, the St Kitts and Nevis publisher of the Guido Fawkes blog, must be considered to be a relevant publisher for the purposes of the Royal Charter.

However, if an offshore relevant publisher chose not to sign up to a recognised/approved regulator, what would be the effect? In other words, what is the risk to Guido Fawkes of joining the Spectator and Private Eye in ignoring the Royal Charter?

The heavy-handed Amendments attempt to penalise relevant publishers for not submitting to the jurisdiction of a recognised/approved regulator by permitting the courts to award exemplary damages against them and make adverse costs orders, in respect of certain claims (defined as “Relevant Claims”: civil claims for libel, slander, breach of confidence, misuse of private information, malicious falsehood and harassment).

Note that the definition of “relevant publisher” in the Amendments is different.

NC29 of the Amendments’ definition for “relevant publisher” catches a person who, in the course of business (whether or not carried on with a view to profit), publishes news-related material. The first obvious question is what, in the context of the Crime and Courts Bill, does “in the course of business” mean? It’s anyone’s guess, but going by the old favourite of the plain, ordinary meaning of the words, I’d suggest that any website or blog that is published by a commercial entity or charity will be caught. This will catch many political current affairs blogs, such as LabourList, PoliticsHome and ConservativeHome. The grey area will be personal blogs that also carry advertising – will these be sufficiently commercial to be “in the course of business”?

Taking the two definitions into account, I’d say the Guido Fawkes blog was a relevant publisher for both the Royal Charter and the Amendments and so was caught by them. So what?

For the threat of exemplary damages and adverse costs orders under the Amendments to have any effect on overseas commercial blogs, in order to persuade them to volunteer to be subject to a recognised press regulator under the Royal Charter, the blogs would have to be convinced that claimants could successfully bring a Relevant Claim against them.  This would require Relevant Claim claimants to get leave to serve a claim outside of the relevant jurisdiction (see Civil Procedure Rules Part 6 and relevant Practice Directions 6B), to get a default judgement, assuming the blog publishers ignore the claimants’ served claims (Part 12 and Practice Direction 12) and obtain orders to enforce any judgments (eg stop orders? Part 73 and Practice Direction 73). All tricky steps – good luck with that for a claimant who is a normal person of usual means.

I suspect that many overseas commercial blogs, Guido Fawkes amongst them, will not be sufficiently worried by the Amendments regime to rush into the arms of a Royal Charter recognised press regulator.

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Publish and be damned? Not bloggers.

Harriette Wilson00

It is always a joy to see the executive at work. Yesterday saw the publication of a rushed draft Royal Charter for Self-Regulation of the Press (the “Royal Charter”). At the same time, a set of amendments were scrambled together and tabled for consideration in the Crime and Courts Bill (the “Amendments”).

You can tell there was not much careful reflection on the effect of the combined documents simply by seeing the confusion that abounds. This being a lawyer’s blog, I am interested in the misaligned definitions of “relevant publisher”.

It must be uncontroversial to state that the Royal Charter, whether by accident or design, will catch self-hosted blogs that comment on current affairs or politics. Schedule 4(1) includes:

b) “relevant publisher” means a person (other than a broadcaster) who publishes in the United Kingdom:

i. a newspaper or magazine containing news-related material, or

ii. a website containing news-related material (whether or not related to a newspaper or magazine);

d) a person “publishes in the United Kingdom” if the publication takes place in the United Kingdom or is targeted primarily at an audience in the United Kingdom;

e) “news-related material” means:

i. news or information about current affairs;

ii. opinion about matters relating to the news or current affairs;; or

iii. gossip about celebrities, other public figures or other persons in the news.

There is some potential confusion in what is meant by a website. This blog is hosted and comes under the domain of WordPress. Is this my website or does it belong to WordPress, for the purposes of the “relevant publisher” definition? The blog is aimed at an audience in the UK; is the website hosting it? If I hosted the blog on my own domain, even using WordPress software, then it is clearer that I would be a “relevant publisher”.

So what? Firstly, the Royal Charter is all about setting up a recognition panel for regulators of relevant publishers. Sure, these regulators must have their own standard codes, and in order to be recognised must have an arbitration process for complainants and relevant publishers, an enforcement mechanism (with fines of up to 1% turnover to a maximum of £1 million for breaches of standard codes) and the ability to direct corrections and apologies. However, nothing in the Royal Charter would require me, as a blogger who is a “relevant publisher”, to subject myself to the jurisdiction of a recognised regulator. I can choose to stay unregulated.

Any reports that as a blogger I could be fined up to £1 million are therefore wide of the mark.

What about the Amendments? These are, in essence, an indirect method of getting relevant publishers to sign up to a recognised regulator – in the terminology of the Amendments, an approved regulator. If relevant publishers fail to sign up, then they risk being subject to an award of exemplary damages in certain defined causes of action (see the definition of “Relevant Claims”: civil claims for libel, slander, breach of confidence, misuse of private information, malicious falsehood and harassment), if the claimant is successful against them. If I were a relevant publisher blogger caught by the Royal Charter, should I be worried?

No.

This is because in the Amendment, “relevant publisher” is given a different definition:

NC29

(1) In sections [Awards of exemplary damages] to [Awards of costs], “relevant publisher” means a person who, in the course of a business (whether or not carried on with a view to profit), publishes news-related material—

(a) which is written by different authors, and

(b) which is to any extent subject to editorial control.

This is subject to subsections (5) and (6).

(2) News-related material is “subject to editorial control” if there is a person (whether or not the publisher of the material) who has editorial or equivalent responsibility for—

(a) the content of the material,

(b) how the material is to be presented, and

(c) the decision to publish it.

(3) A person who is the operator of a website is not to be taken as having editorial or equivalent responsibility for the decision to publish any material on the site, or for content of the material, if the person did not post the material on the site.

(4) The fact that the operator of the website may moderate statements posted on it by others does not matter for the purposes of subsection (3).

News-related material has the same meaning in the Amendments as in the Royal Charter. It is also made clear in the Amendments that a reference to “publication” of material is a reference to publication on a website, in hard copy, or by any other means.

So for the purposes of the Amendments and the threat of exemplary damages, I would not be a relevant publisher, whether this blog was hosted by WordPress or self-hosted. WordPress would also not be a relevant publisher for a WordPress-hosted blog (no editorial control).

So as a blogger, I will not lose any sleep over the Royal Charter or the Amendments as they stand today.

[The image is of Harriette Wilson, courtesan to, amongst others, the Duke of Wellington. On being threatened that she would publish her memoirs, he is reported to have said, “Publish and be damned.”]

Quirinius’ Census or Clegg’s Individual Electoral Registration

Nick Clegg Voter registration may not be the most exciting of subjects, but it has a certain topicality, as we remember a child born of parents travelling a long distance to register, albeit for a census.

An answer from Nick Clegg in the House of Commons on 20 December 2012, during questions to the Deputy Prime Minister, suggests that the Liberal Democrats are not giving much ground on the introduction of individual electoral registration (IER), which was included as a commitment in the Coalition Agreement. This is despite growing criticism that IER will not fix the fall in registered voters, with the Electoral Commission reporting on 14 December 2011 that 6 million voters (or 17.7% of those ordinarily eligible to vote, estimated in April 2011), had disappeared off the Electoral Roll (click here for the report).

I agree with the critics who suggest that the Government’s proposals for IER will not address the problem of missing voters, and that consideration should be given to a legal obligation to register (but see below on reservations). No such requirement exists in the present Representation of the Peoples Act 1983, or is proposed by the Liberal Democrats (as confirmed by Nick Clegg).

I suspect that part of the reluctance citizens have to electoral registration is the secondary use permitted by the 1983 Act (and the Representation of the Peoples (England and Wales) Regulations 2001, for England and Wales), subject to voters’ opt outs, for the electoral roll. Perhaps if the electoral register were maintained upon the basis that its sole use was for electoral registration, subject to voters’ opt in for secondary uses, more would be willing to register. It would certainly place the onus on public authorities to explain and justify their secondary uses.

There is also the question of drawing the boundaries of constituencies by reference to the electorate, being the eligible voters whose names appear on the electoral register (under Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986). If the number of registered voters continues to fall, it will also have a marked effect on the shape of parliamentary constituencies. It is easy to see how claims of gerrymandering therefore surround the Government’s proposals. This is before consideration is made of the use to which the electoral register is put by local and national government for resource and other planning purposes.

If, as many suspect, it will be the marginalised that will drop off the electoral roll with IER, will their needs be recognised in any social security and associated services planning? Or, to round off the Christmas theme, will the lack of social housing planning mean more displaced families end up in stables?

Can Cameron stop social media?

Egypt Internet Blackout (© Arbor Networks)

This excellent graphic from Arbor Networks shows how Internet traffic to and from Egypt fell off a cliff between 27 and 28 January 2011.  At about the same time mobile phone operators in Egypt reported that they were required to close down their networks in certain areas of the country.

On Thursday, 11 August 2011 David Cameron made a lengthy statement in the House of Commons to open the parliamentary debate on public order, following extenisve rioting in London and other English cities.  Notably, he said:

Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organised via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill, so we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.

Could the UK Government follow Egypt and order an Internet blackout and mobile phone network shutdown, or at least block access via Internet (including by mobile phone) to social media platforms?

Internet Blackout

The Communications Act 2003 contains a broad power that could be used by a Secretary of State to close down or restrict access to the Internet, at least by ordering UK-based communications providers to close or restrict access to any international gateways.  Section 132 begins:

132 Powers to require suspension or restriction of a provider’s entitlement

(1)  If the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for believing that it is necessary to do so—

(a)  to protect the public from any threat to public safety or public health, or

(b)  in the interests of national security,

he may, by a direction to OFCOM, require them to give a direction under subsection (3) to a person (“the relevant provider”) who provides an electronic communications network or electronic communications service or who makes associated facilities available.

(2)  OFCOM must comply with a requirement of the Secretary of State under subsection (1) by giving to the relevant provider such direction under subsection (3) as they consider necessary for the purpose of complying with the Secretary of State’s direction.

(3)  A direction under this section is—

(a)  a direction that the entitlement of the relevant provider to provide electronic communications networks or electronic communications services, or to make associated facilities available, is suspended (either generally or in relation to particular networks, services or facilities); or

(b)  a direction that that entitlement is restricted in the respects set out in the direction.

Whilst the word “reasonable” gives any affected communications provider the hope that a capricious direction of the Secretary of State could be reined in by an urgent judicial review, what amounts to a critical threat to public safety or, especially, national security is not a judgement a court is likely to wish to overturn.  In any event, section 132 can itself be considered unnecessary in the light of Part 2 of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

This part of the 2004 Act replaced the Emergency Powers Act 1920.  It is highly recommended reading for any conspiracy theorist or anyone deeply cynical about the ability of politicians to act reasonably and sensibly in the event of any serious emergency affecting the UK.  In summary, the 2004 Act gives the Executive extraordinary powers to make emergency regulations.  Providing by regulation that internet service providers must deny access to international gateways or particular websites or servers could easily be achieved.

Mobile Phone Network Shutdown

The Secretary of State would not even need to consider making emergency regulations under the 2004 Act in order to shut down mobile phone networks.  A direction made under Section 132 of the Communications Act 2003 would suffice.  Each of the mobile phone operators has in their Wireless Telegraphy Act licences a provision in the same or substantially the same form as the following:

Ofcom may in the event of a national or local state of emergency being declared require the Radio Equipment to be modified or restricted in use, or temporarily or permanently closed down either immediately or on the expiry of such period as Ofcom may specify. Ofcom shall exercise this power by a written notice served on the Licensee or by a general notice applicable to holders of this class of Licence. (See Ofcom’s Template 2G Licence.)

So once Ofcom got the direction from the Secretary of State, it would have to do the dirty work and order the mobile phone operators to close down their networks.

Interception of Social Media

From David Cameron’s statement quoted above, it would appear that the Government’s thinking is that social media networks would be closed down when it was suspected or known that “violence, disorder and criminality” was being plotted.  This implies that there will need to be monitoring of these networks.  The problems in carrying out this monitoring are technical, not legal.  All that would be required legally is an interception warrant made under section 5 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA):

5  Interception with a warrant

(1)  Subject to the following provisions of this Chapter, the Secretary of State may issue a warrant authorising or requiring the person to whom it is addressed, by any such conduct as may be described in the warrant, to secure any one or more of the following—

(a) the interception in the course of their transmission by means of a postal service or telecommunication system of the communications described in the warrant;

(b) the making, in accordance with an international mutual assistance agreement, of a request for the provision of such assistance in connection with, or in the form of, an interception of communications as may be so described;

(c) the provision, in accordance with an international mutual assistance agreement, to the competent authorities of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom of any such assistance in connection with, or in the form of, an interception of communications as may be so described;

(d) the disclosure, in such manner as may be so described, of intercepted material obtained by any interception authorised or required by the warrant, and of related communications data.

(2) The Secretary of State shall not issue an interception warrant unless he believes—

(a) that the warrant is necessary on grounds falling within subsection (3); and

(b) that the conduct authorised by the warrant is proportionate to what is sought to be achieved by that conduct.

(3) Subject to the following provisions of this section, a warrant is necessary on grounds falling within this subsection if it is necessary—

(a) in the interests of national security;

(b) for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime;

(c) for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the United Kingdom; or

(d) for the purpose, in circumstances appearing to the Secretary of State to be equivalent to those in which he would issue a warrant by virtue of paragraph (b), of giving effect to the provisions of any international mutual assistance agreement.

(4) The matters to be taken into account in considering whether the requirements of subsection (2) are satisfied in the case of any warrant shall include whether the information which it is thought necessary to obtain under the warrant could reasonably be obtained by other means.

(5) A warrant shall not be considered necessary on the ground falling within subsection (3)(c) unless the information which it is thought necessary to obtain is information relating to the acts or intentions of persons outside the British Islands.

(6) The conduct authorised by an interception warrant shall be taken to include—

(a) all such conduct (including the interception of communications not identified by the warrant) as it is necessary to undertake in order to do what is expressly authorised or required by the warrant;

(b) conduct for obtaining related communications data; and

(c) conduct by any person which is conduct in pursuance of a requirement imposed by or on behalf of the person to whom the warrant is addressed to be provided with assistance with giving effect to the warrant.

This looks like a very broad power to me.  However, the media stories about the London riots have focussed on the alleged widespread use of BlackBerry Messenger.  This is a secure closed network.  Would this mean the plots on BlackBerry would not come to the notice of criminal intelligence officers?  As has been demonstrated in the Middle East, Research in Motion can come to an accommodation with national security authorities that meets their eavesdropping requirements.  If Research in Motion did not want to cooperate, then arguably there exists a robust regime in Part III of RIPA that would enable investigatory authorities to obtain the necessary codes, particularly as the grounds set out in section 49 for the requirement to release keys are essentially the same as in section 5 for interception.

Human Rights?

What about human rights, you might ask?  Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights is supposed to grant a right to freedom of expression, isn’t it? However, as even Wikipedia’s Article 10 page helpfully points out, this is not an unqualified right.  Where in accordance with the law (see above) and necessary in a democratic society, the right can be restricted.

So, although the steps outlined by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons debate seem an extreme response to rioting, the legal tools are already in place to enable the UK Government to do exactly what the Prime Minister has proposed.

Ofcom’s Sitefinder reprieved?

Ofcom Sitefinder (click to visit)

Sitefinder is a web-based services that allows anyone to search any location or postcode in the UK to discover the location of any nearby mobile phone base station, together with details of the station’s operator, operating frequencies and maximum transmitter power (e.i.r.p. per channel).

Sitefinder was the subject of a request for information under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (“EIRs”) to Ofcom, which was refused. The applicant for the information then made an appeal to Ofcom for an internal review, who upheld the initial decision to refuse the request. The applicant then appealed to the Information Commissioner, who was minded to order the disclosure of the relevant information (Case Ref: FER0072933, 11 September 2006). This was then appealed to the Information Tribunal (now known as the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights)), who also ordered disclosure (EA/2006/0078, 4 September 2007). Ofcom appealed to the High Court, where the appeal was dismissed ([2008] EWHC 1445 (Admin), 8 April 2008), then to the Court of Appeal ([2009] EWCA Civ 90, 20 February 2009) and the Supreme Court ([2010] UKSC 3, 27 January 2010), who referred a question to the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) (Case C-71/10). On 10 March 2011 Advocate General Kokott gave her opinion.  Finally, the CJEU has given its decision ([2011] EUECJ C-71/10, 28 July 2011), which should lead to the case being closed.

Initial Request and Internal Review

The EIRs provide for wider access to information that falls within the wide definition of environmental information included in the EIRs, than the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“FOIA”) permits.  Consequently, the information request made by an information officer from Health Protection Scotland on 11 January 2005 requesting national datasets of the full details of each mobile phone base station within the Sitefinder database under the FOIA, was correctly processed by Ofcom (being a request for information on factors such as radiation – EIRs, reg.2.1(b)) under the EIRs.  The request was made because Sitefinder itself only permits users to research details within postcode areas, with no national or regional lists or exact details of base station grid references.

As a result of the initial request and request for internal review dated 25 February 2005, a number of exemptions under EIRs came into play, particularly:

  • the public safety and national security exemption at reg.12(5)(a) – the public interest in safeguarding the location of all TETRA sites, and hence all police and emergency services communications, outweighed any public interest in disclosure of the sites’ data; and;
  • the intellectual property rights (‘IPRs’) exemption at reg.12(5)(c) – disclosure would affect the rights of the network operators. The raw national dataset could be used by competitors to discover the design of each mobile network.  The IPRs in question were:
    • the operators’ database right in the Sitefinder database (applying the ruling in CJEU Case C-203/2 British Horseracing Board –v- William Hill, the Commissioner agreed that operators had made the necessary “substantial investment in obtaining, verifying or presenting the contents of the database” (Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997, reg 13(1)) to create a database right – Ofcom estimated that each operator took up to 50 man hours every 3 months to collate information for Sitefinder as well as 3-5 man-days per month to attend and contribute to Sitefinder policy and development groups);
    • copyright in the operators’ data; and
    • an obligation of confidence (the World Intellectual Property Organisation Convention 1967, Art. 2(viii), includes “rights relating to…works …protection against unfair competition and all other rights resulting from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary or artistic fields” – the Commissioner did not find that the appropriate obligation of confidence existed in the data supplied by the operators).

Appeal to Information Commissioner

The case was appealed to the Information Commissioner on 22 April 2005. The Commissioner considered the application by Ofcom of the EIRs, reg.12(5) exemptions, carefully applying his Awareness Guidance No. 20, which details how the Commissioner considers the adverse affect test for EIRs, re.12(5) should operate. Essentially, this is a harm test. The Guidance states: “the adverse affect test provides exceptions only in those cases where an adverse affect would arise. In other words, so far as environmental information is concerned, in order to engage an exception, some harm must be certain rather than merely likely. This is a significant difference.”  As Ofcom did not present the Commissioner with evidence of harm to public safety or national security, or the operators’ IPRs, disclosure was ordered.

In coming to this view, the Commissioner took account of the balance of interests under EIRs’ cases: Recital 16 of the EU Directive on public access to environmental information (Council Directive 2003/4/EC), upon which the EIRs are based, states that exceptions must “be interpreted in a restrictive way”. It was quite possible for Ofcom to disclose the requested information subject to the operators’ database rights and copyright, so that the requester could not use the disclosed database. A public authority cannot prejudge use of disclosed environmental information. The EIRs, as with the FOIA, do not require a requester to state the purpose of the request.  For both copyright and database right, it was ruled that use of the disclosed database by the requester would require a licence from the operators, which by implication they could refuse to grant.

Appeal to Information Tribunal

Ofcom appealed to the Information Tribunal on 10 October 2006, and T-Mobile was permitted by the Tribunal to be joined to the appeal on 29 November 2006.  The case before the Tribunal was a messy one – it was not simply an appeal of the Commissioner’s decision.  However, amongst other rulings, the Information Tribunal in considering the EIRs, reg.12(5)(b) public safety exception, did consider that there was a slightly increased risk that the disclosure of the site information requested, being more accurate than that already in the public domain, may adversely affect public safety. However, the Tribunal did not consider that this increased risk outweighed the public interest in the site information, given its importance as identified in the Stewart Report and for epidemiological investigations.

The Tribunal was also not convinced that the IPR exemption at EIRs, reg.12(5)(c) applied. The Tribunal decided that the exemption can only be applied if there is sufficient adverse effect to trigger the exemption, followed by a consideration of whether there the actual or potential harm in the disclosure is sufficiently great to outweigh the public interest in disclosure. The Tribunal considered that the test to find adverse effect should not be set with a particularly high threshold – the exemption could apply to any case where there was more than a mere technical or minimal infringement of the relevant IPR.  The Tribunal considered the degree of harm that disclosure of the Sitefinder dataset would cause. For example, it considered the potential loss of revenue claimed by the operators from their inability to license their site data and the adverse effect that the disclosure of the Sitefinder information would result in the implied disclosure of each operator’s network design.

In each case, the Tribunal was not convinced that there would be actual or potential harm under each of the headings submitted by Ofcom and T-Mobile, but considered that there was sufficient adverse effect from the combination of the various factors.

The Tribunal also considered a further public interest in withholding the Sitefinder data. The operators’ had warned Ofcom that as their supply of base station data was not a statutory requirement but was made by them voluntarily, they would refuse to supply any further data if the Tribunal ruled in favour of disclosure. There was clearly a public interest in maintaining Sitefinder. The Tribunal did not consider that it could base its decision on any actual or implied threat of future non-cooperation by the operators.

In addition, the Tribunal did not accept Ofcom’s view that the EIRs required it to consider whether the aggregate public interest in maintaining the exemptions outweighed the public interest in favour of disclosure.

Appeal to the Administrative Court

In the Administrative Court the question of how to apply the EIRs exemptions was considered. In essence, the Court reviewed whether a public authority should consider the public interest in disclosure outweighed the public interest in withholding the requested information for each separate exemption that could apply, and only if all exemptions resulted in the public interest in disclosure being outweighed should the information not be released. The contrary argument was that the public authority should consider the aggregate public interest, was dismissed by the Court. In reviewing the IPRs exemptions, the Administrative Court considered that the Tribunal could consider whether the use of the data to be disclosed (i.e. for epidemiological research) was in the public interest, even if that meant a breach of the operators’ rights. This was important as strictly a person requesting information under the EIRs or FOIA does not have to state a purpose (however, I have always advised applicants that the purpose should be stated, for exactly this reason – it colours the public interest test – see the chapter I have co-authored in the Law Society’s Freedom of Information Handbook).

Appeal to the Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal reviewed the Administrative Court’s view on aggregation of public interest, and determined that the Administrative Court had erred in not following this approach. However, the Court of Appeal agreed that the purpose to which the data disclosed was to be put could be considered in any public interest test.

Supreme Court

The issue for the Supreme Court was therefore the same: how should a public authority apply more than one exemption? Is each exemption to be addressed separately, by considering whether the interest served by it is outweighed by the public interest in disclosure? Or can the interests served by different exemptions be combined and then weighed against the public interest in disclosure? The Supreme Court quickly realised that this involved discerning what was intended by Directive 2003/4/EC, and so made the following reference to the CJEU:

Under Council Directive 2003/4/EC, where a public authority holds environmental information, disclosure of which would have some adverse effects on the separate interests served by more than one exception (in casu, the interests of public security served by article 4(2(b) and those of intellectual property rights served by article 4(2)(e)), but it would not do so, in the case of either exception viewed separately, to any extent sufficient to outweigh the public interest in disclosure, does the Directive require a further exercise involving the cumulation of the separate interests served by the two exceptions and their weighing together against the public interest in disclosure?

Advocate General Opinion

Julianne Kokott has carried out her usual thorough analysis, and has suggested to the CJEU that they answer:

Under Council Directive 2003/4/EC on public access to environmental information, where a public authority holds environmental information, disclosure of which would have some adverse effects on the separate interests served by more than one exception under Article 4(2), but it would not do so, in the case of either exception viewed separately, to any extent sufficient to outweigh the public interest in disclosure, the directive requires a further exercise involving the cumulation of the separate interests served by the two exceptions and their weighing together against the public interest in disclosure.

Decision of the CJEU

Perhaps not surprisingly, the CJEU has followed the conclusion of the Advocate General. The judgement is short and to the point, so I will not repeat the analysis of Article 4(2) of Directive 2003/4/EC made by the CJEU to enable them to come to this conclusion (see the link above).

As a result of the decision, the matter will be referred back relatively quickly to the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights), where I expect the cumulation of exemption interests will be found to outweigh the public interest in disclosure, so that Sitefinder will be reprieved.