Just before Christmas, Fish Legal had a fantastic away result when the EU’s Court of Justice issued a judgement that will probably mean that the public will at last have the ‘right to know’ what water companies dump into (and suck out of ) our rivers and coastal areas. At the moment, these huge multinational utilities don’t have to give us information about their activities if we ask for it. Fish Legal has been fighting for the past five years to change that and to make the companies subject to the Environmental Information Regulations, and this judgement from the highest court in Europe will almost certainly lead to that happening. This judgement will now go back to the Upper Tribunal, which is likely to issue a final ruling on this matter early in 2014.
Water companies are one of the biggest polluters in the country, and although they have made massive improvements to sewage treatment in recent decades, they still cause a vast amount of damage to the water environment from their activities. Although they were once state-owned, water companies were privatised in the early 1990’s and have always considered themselves outside the UK’s freedom of information obligations.
Fish Legal often asks water companies for information about pollution and other incidents affecting our members’ fisheries so that we can fight for compensation to pay for restoration, to campaign against water pollution or over-abstraction, or to press the Environment Agency to take regulatory action. We are currently fighting more than 60 legal cases on behalf of our member clubs and fisheries. Whilst some companies have responded, many have on numerous occasions refused our requests for information. This ‘secrecy blanket’ has protected parts of the water industry from proper public scrutiny, and in some cases from legal action and we think it should be taken away for good. The Environmental Information Regulations place a duty of disclosure on those subject to it to provide complete and accurate information within a certain time frame. If they don’t comply, there is a formal process of complaint and appeal to the Information Commissioner, and through the courts if necessary.
Although this is not a final victory in this case, it paves the way for one in 2014. It’s high time the water companies came clean about what they put into – and take out of – the nation’s precious water environment. It’s not just anglers who want to know what damage these huge companies have done to their fish, there are millions of people who swim in rivers, lakes and the sea who should have the right to know if the water has been polluted. We will keep fighting to remove this ‘secrecy blanket’ and to ensure that all the water companies are forced to open up to proper scrutiny.
We have funded the substantial legal costs of taking on some of the country’s biggest companies with income from our member clubs and fisheries and from subscriptions and donations from tens of thousands of anglers who are members of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal. We can only do these things because of the generosity of our supporters. Many thanks to all of you who are members. To those who aren’t: isn’t it time you joined?
www.anglingtrust.net/join or call our membership team on 01568 620447 (office hours only).