The 'Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment Regulations, 2005' Legal Notice 116 of 2005 which came into force on 17th May, 2005 allows the general public to request environmental information from the competent authority - the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, and those bodies or persons as the Minister responsible for the environment may so appoint.
A request for information on the environment can be written, electronic or hardcopy.
A request must usually be answered within 30 days of receipt of the request if the information is readily available; however this time period can be extended by a further 30 days if the information requested is complex and voluminous.
If the competent authority receives a request which it believes is too general, the authority will contact the applicant as soon as possible to try to determine specifically what information it is that he/she would like and give assistance to be able to do so.
When making a request for information an applicant may state a preference as to the form/format in which they would like the information to be provided e.g. hardcopy/electronic etc.
When MEPA as the competent authority does not have the requested environmental information, it shall forward the applicant's request to the public authority holding such information to obtain the information on his behalf and shall provide this to the applicant within the time-frames stipulated above.
The competent authority may charge a reasonable fee for disclosing information; however the authority cannot charge an applicant to inspect the information on site such as public registers or lists.
Inevitably there is information for which there would be adverse consequences should it be released, for example the nesting location of a rare bird species. To prevent such an event happening, the Freedom of Access to Environmental Information Regulations contain a number of exceptions which would allow public authorities to withhold that information.
If the competent authority refuses to disclose all/part of the information requested, that authority must state, in writing, what exception the information falls under and justify their decision that the exception should be applied.