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DEFRA will now have to provide copies of briefings to Minister Therese Coffey on fly-tipping. 

I wanted to find out exactly what she had been told by DEFRA officials. In particular about the lack of prosecutions by the Environment Agency?

On 21st November 2017 DEFRA minister Therese Coffey said that “The number of incidents of large-scale fly–tipping dealt with last year by the Environment Agency also increased to more than 200″.

However, my researches indicated that the Environment Agency were only prosecuting a handful of cases each year. In 2017 they only took one major incident of fly-tipping through to prosecution.

On 5th March 2018 I therefore submitted a freedom of information request for “copies of the written briefings given to Minister Coffey by DEFRA in the last 6 months on fly-tipping.”

All I was sent a publicly available fact sheet but no ministerial briefing notes.

DEFRA said they were relying on Regulation 12(4)(e) of the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) which can protect the internal communications of a public body from disclosure – but this is subject to a  public interest test.

I requested an internal review arguing that any briefings would have contained factual and other non-sensitive information which could have been released by redacting the sensitive material. In response I was sent a list of 7 briefing documents, but DEFRA continued to withhold their contents.

I complained to the Information Commissioner who after examining each document upheld DEFRA’s decision. It took them 5 months to do this.

I then complained to the Information Tribunal. The case was heard by Judge Chris Hughes on 22nd July 2019.

The Information Commissioner chose not to be represented. DEFRA however fielded a team of 7 including 2 lawyers and David Read, Joint Head of their Waste Regulation and Crime team as a witness.

At one point I was asked to leave the room while the Judge and his two lay advisers went through each of the 7 documents with the DEFRA presumably asking them to explain paragraph by paragraph why it was not in the public interest to release the information in them. This session took over an hour. 

In their subsequent Decision Judge Hughes concluded: 

13.The tribunal is therefore satisfied that, with respect to the information identified in the internal review and upon which the IC based her decision notice the balance of the public interest does lie in disclosure, the IC’s decision should be set aside and (subject to redaction of the details of more junior civil servants) the information requested should be disclosed

I am now awaiting the un-redacted documents from DEFRA.

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Peter Silverman
13th August 2019

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