The Information Tribunal (with Upper Tribunal Judge Rintoul sitting) has overturned a prior decision by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), and held that Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) is not a public authority for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR).
The EIR create an access-to-information regime similar to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, but specifically relating to environmental information, and give effect to the UK's obligations under international environmental laws. Water and other utility companies have, for instance, previously been subject to decisions that they are "public authorities" for the purpose of the EIR. Such decisions will often turn on complex questions about whether the body has been entrusted with performance of public services by the state, and whether it has "special powers" for the performance of those services.
In the case of HAL, however, the Information Tribunal found that although HAL does have a large number of powers conferred by various legal provisions, none of those provisions and powers means that it can be said to have been "entrusted" by the state to act on its behalf to perform a service of public interest.
The ICO's original decision attracted considerable attention – a ruling that HAL was obliged to make environmental information available on request was potentially a boon to environmental campaigners and many others with an interest in the information held by HAL. This successful appeal by HAL has now removed that obligation (subject to any further appeal to the higher courts by the ICO, or the original requester).