Nama begins court appeal against ‘public body’ ruling

The Supreme Court yesterday began hearing an appeal by Nama which centres on whether the agency is a public body and subject to public access requests for environmental information.

Nama is appealing a High Court ruling upholding a finding by the then commissioner for environmental information, Emily O’Reilly, who ruled in September 2011 that Nama was a ‘public authority’ as outlined in regulations on environmental information.

At the time, Mr Justice Colm MacEochaidh said the basis for Nama’s claim it was not a public authority within the meaning of the relevant regulations was “absurd“,

He dismissed Nama’s appeal against a ruling by the commissioner that the agency was a public authority therefore subject to freedom of environmental information requests.

Ms O’Reilly ruled that Nama should be subject to requests under environmental freedom of information after finding it was a public authority within the meaning of the 2007 European (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations.

Nama appealed her decision to the High Court, contending it was not a public authority.

In the Supreme Court yesterday the five judge court with Ms Justice Susan Denham presiding began hearing legal submissions on both sides. The case will be resumed at a later date.

The commissioner issued her ruling after a journalist, Gavin Sheridan, sought information on Nama under a freedom to environmental information statutory instrument, the Environmental Information Regulations.

Nama refused to supply the information on grounds including it is not a public authority within the meaning of the 2007 regulations.

The matter was referred to the commissioner who found the agency was not justified in its refusal and annulled it.

She said Nama was a public authority within the meaning of Article 3.1 of the 2007 regulations as it was “a board or other body.. established by or under statute”. Article 3.1 states that “public authority means..” government and various other bodies “and includes..(vi) a board or other body... established by or under statute”.

In its High Court appeal, Nama argued the commissioner had failed to apply proper principles of statutory interpretation when considering what is a public authority under the 2007 regulations.

In his ruling, Mr Justice MacEochaidh said the commissioner’s interpretation was correct.

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