The right to access environmental information is a vital element in promoting informed decision-making and participation in environmental matters. This has been recognised in international instruments such as the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making Matters and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention, 1998). However, in order to fully guarantee the right at the national level, States must implement review procedures to allow requesters to challenge public authority decisions with a view to enforcing the right to access environmental information. While the importance of effective review procedures has long been recognised, the form that these procedures take varies between jurisdictions due to sharp differences in national legal and administrative systems. This can be seen in the distinctive review procedures utilised in England, a State which is obliged to comply with the obligations enshrined in the Aarhus Convention, and in the United States (US), which is not a signatory to the Convention and has subsumed the right to access environmental information into its general Freedom of Information regime.
The paper will examine the review procedures available to those who request access to environmental information from English public authorities and US federal agencies. It will assess whether these procedures meet the standards set by the Aarhus Convention in terms of ensuring that requestors have effective access to justice to enforce the right to access environmental information. The paper argues that the review procedures available in England and the US are not fully in line with Aarhus requirements. The paper sets out suggested reforms to each jurisdiction’s review procedures, sourced from the Aarhus Convention and the comparator jurisdiction. Finally, the paper considers the likelihood of the proposed reforms being adopted successfully.