The Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment Regulations (S.L. 549.39) give people the right to access environmental information from the competent authority, which is the Environment and Resources Authority. Below is a list of frequently asked questions in relation to making a request for environmental information, the replies to which can be viewed further down on this page.
Can I make a request for environmental information?
Who can I request environmental information from?
How can I make a request?
What happens after I have made a request?
How long does the competent authority have to respond to my request?
Do I have to pay for the information?
Does the competent authority only have a duty to disclose information which it produced?
Is there any reason why I should not receive all the information I requested?
What happens if the competent authority does not hold part/all of the information I requested?
What if I am not satisfied with the information provided?
1. Can I make a request for environmental information?
Yes. The right is not restricted; any person can request environmental information (this includes organisations as well as individuals).
2. Who can I request environmental information from?
Requests can be made to the Environment and Resources Authority, which acts in its own name or on behalf of other public authorities, or on behalf of any natural or legal person performing public administrative functions in relation to the environment.
3. How can I make a request?
Requests for environmental information can be made in writing (hard copy/electronic). The competent authority has a designated enquiry line, e-mail/post address.
4. What happens after I have made a request?
The competent authority has a responsibility to provide ‘assistance’. For example, if a request is too general, the competent authority may contact you to try to determine what information is required.
Although authorities have a responsibility to assist you, they have no right to ask why you want the information. However, if you volunteer that information, it may help the competent authority provide the most appropriate information. Even if the authority does know the purpose of your request, they are not able to take this into consideration when determining whether any information cannot be disclosed.
5. How long does the competent authority have to respond to my request?
The competent authority must respond as soon as possible and at the latest within 30 days, except in circumstances where the information requested is particularly complex and voluminous. In such cases the time limit can be extended by a further 30 days. If the time limit is extended, the competent authority must notify you of this delay within 30 days of your initial request, and state when they believe they will be able to respond in full.
6. Do I have to pay for the information?
The competent/public authority cannot make a charge for allowing you: (a) access to any public registers or lists of environmental information, or (b) to examine the information (at a place chosen by the competent/public authority).
For all other situations, charging is at the discretion of the competent authority (any charge must be reasonable).
There is also a requirement for the competent authority to publish a schedule of charges (for example the price per sheet of photocopying), information on the circumstances in which charges may be made or waived, and where advance payment will be required.
7. Does the competent authority only have a duty to disclose information which it produced?
No. Under the regulations, any environmental information the competent/public authorities hold can potentially be disclosed if requested, it is irrelevant whether that authority produced the information or whether it owns it.
8. Is there any reason why I should not receive all the information I requested?
There are certain restrictions on the right to access environmental information. These restrictions are applicable to certain categories of information (e.g. national security information). However, even if the information falls within one of the categories, if it is in the public interest for the information to be disclosed, it will be. If the competent authority determines that the information can not be released because it falls within one of these categories and there is a stronger public interest in withholding the information than releasing it, they must inform you of this in writing or electronically and explain their decision (including their reasons why it is in the public interest to withhold the information).
9. What happens if the competent authority does not hold part/all of the information I requested?
When a request for information is received, the first task for the authority is to determine whether it holds the information.
If the competent authority does not hold any of the information requested but believes that another public authority does hold it, it must either:
- request the authority which they are confident holds the information and send you a notice stating that they do not hold the information but they have requested the appropriate authority on your behalf to release the information, or
- if the authority does not know who may hold the information requested, they will simply send you a refusal notice stating that they do not hold the information.
- if the competent only holds part of the information, it must provide the information it holds, and either: request the authority which they are confident holds the remainder of the information and send you a notice stating which information they do not hold and for which information they have requested the appropriate authority on your behalf to release the information, or
- if an authority does not know who may hold the remainder information, they will simply send you a refusal notice stating which information they do not hold.
10. What if I am not satisfied with the information provided ?
You have a right to submit an appeal against a decision, to the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal in terms of Article 63 of the Environment Protection Act of 2016 (Act I of 2016). Any action of any public authority may be challenged in court under the provisions of Article 469A of Chapter 12 of the Laws of Malta. You should always however seek legal assistance in this regard. Alternatively recourse may be made to the Commissioner for Environment and Planning within the Office of the Ombudsman.