Watery rights and wrongs – and causation too

TA-ArcticCharr-002R (o.t.a Seiont, Gwyfrai and Llyfni Anglers Society) v. Natural Resources Wales [2015] EWHC 3578, Hickinbottom J, 17 December 2015, read judgment and

Chetwynd v. Tunmore [2016] EWHC 156 (QB), HHJ Reddihough, sitting as a judge of the High Court, 4 February 2016, read judgment

This is a wintry double-bill on two recently decided cases about water quality, quantity, fish – and causation.

In the first, Seiont, Snowdonian anglers complained that the Welsh water regulator (Natural Resources Wales or NRW)  had misunderstood what was required by the Environmental Liability Directive in respect of Llyn Padarn, a freshwater lake the home of the Arctic charr, Salvelinus alpinus.  So they sought judicial review of NRW’s decision.

The main legal question was – did environmental damage within the Directive include slowing down recovery from previous damage, as the anglers argued, or was it confined to deterioration from an existing state (as the regulator had decided)?

Hickinbottom J held the latter, and the claim was dismissed.

In the second case, the claimant owners of fishing lakes in Norfolk said that their neighbours, in constructing rival lakes (without planning permission) had caused water levels to fall, and hence loss of fish and consequent income. Had that been established, the claimants would have had a claim for breach of statutory duty under section 48A Water Resources Act 1991. Such a claim, the judge held, would have been a strict liability one, in which foreseeability of damage played no part.

But the claimants lost on the facts, not before the judge had given an interesting analysis of the law of causation in this field.

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Gamekeeper’s environmental Aarhus claim to shoot buzzards?

Buteo_buteo_-Netherlands-8McMorn (R, on the application of) v Natural England [2015] EWHC 3297 (Admin) – read judgment

An interesting point arose in this judicial review (for which see Rosalind English’s post here). Could the claimant could get the benefit of an order that any costs he might have had to pay were capped at £5,000? The original judge, Thirlwall J, when granting permission, had refused this costs protection. Ouseley J granted it, though, because the claimant won, the order is academic (short of a successful appeal by the defendant). 

This kind of costs protection only applies when the claim is an environmental claim covered by the Aarhus Convention: see a whole list of posts at the end of this one, including the true bluffer’s guide here. The UK has been dragged kicking and screaming into compliance with the Aarhus costs requirements, that environmental challenges not be “prohibitively expensive”, thanks to a combination of the Convention’s own enforcement body and the EU Court in Luxembourg.

But the domestic courts have had some difficulty in deciding what is or is not comes within an environmental challenge.

As we will see, the judge also thought that an Aarhus claim requires a more intensive review of the substantive decision than might have been applied had the claim been a typical domestic challenge on grounds of irrationality. I deal with that point first.

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Supreme Court: no-win-no-fee costs regime compatible with Article 6

11769Coventry v. Lawrence [2015] UKSC 50, 22 July 2015, read judgment here

The pre-April 2013 Conditional Fee Agreement system, under which claimants could recover uplifts on their costs and their insurance premiums from defendants, has survived – just. It received a sustained challenge from defendants to the effect that such a system was in breach of their Article 6 rights to a fair trial.

In a seven-justice court there was a strongly-worded dissent of two, and two other justices found the case “awkward.”

The decision arises out of the noisy speedway case about which I posted in March 2014 – here. The speedway business ended up being ordered to pay £640,000 by way of costs after the trial. On an initial hearing (my post here), the Supreme Court was so disturbed by this that they ordered a further hearing to decide whether this was compatible with Article 6 .

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Bank Mellat’s $4bn A1P1 claim gathers pace

bank_MellatBank Mellat v HM Treasury [2015] EWHC 1258 (Comm), Flaux J, 6 May 2015, read judgment

Two recent judgments underscoring the potential high cost of the UK getting it wrong in its dealing with businesses and hence being liable to pay damages under the Human Rights Act for breach of its A1P1 obligations. Regular readers will know that A1P1 is the ECHR right to peaceful enjoyment of property.

The first case was the photovoltaics case of Breyer, all about reducing renewables subsidies unfairly: see my post of last week here. The second, this case, involves a much more direct form of impact, namely the Treasury’s direction under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 that no-one else should have any commercial dealings with Bank Mellat, because, the Treasury said, the Bank had connections with Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme. 

Bank Mellat’s challenge got to the Supreme Court: see judgment and my post. The Court (a damn’d close run thing – 5:4) concluded that the direction was arbitrary and irrational and procedurally unfair. The nub of the complaint is that there were other Iranian banks against whom this very draconian measure was not taken, and that there was nothing specific about the Bank which made it more implicated than the rest of the banking system.

The Supreme Court remitted the case for trial as to HRA damages.

The current judgment of Flaux J is the first stage in that trial process. As we will see, Bank Mellat are distinct winners at this stage.

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Local authorities and judicial review: they should not put their heads completely in the sands

728631_de6cf1deMidcounties Co-Operative Ltd v. Forest of Dean [2015] EWHC 1251 (Admin) 6 May 2015, Singh J, read judgment here

Out of what some may think to be an everyday spat between the Co-Op (existing  supermarket) and an out-of-town supermarket proposer, comes a salutary reminder from Singh J that local authorities cannot behave like private litigants when they are judicially reviewed. Different rules apply.

A little bit of context. Cinderford, like many small towns, has been subject to supermarket wars for some years. Unfortunately, the local planning authority got its reasons for supporting an out-of-town project wrong. And they were successfully challenged on judicial review – once, and then twice, and then, as we shall see, for a third time. And the response on this last occasion to the challenge – we disagree with the challenge, but we won’t appear to dispute it, and will leave it all to the supermarket to whom we gave planning permission to say why we were not unlawful in granting them permission.

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A1P1 claims by photovoltaics get to the Court of Appeal

Department of Energy and Climate Change v. Breyer Group plc and others  [2015] EWCA Civ 408, 28 April 2015 read judgment

In 2011, DECC decided to change the rules about subsidies for photovoltaic schemes, and caused substantial losses to those who had contracted or were about to contract on the basis of the more generous old subsidies. 

This is prime territory for a damages claim under A1P1 ECHR. The Court of Appeal has recently dismissed an appeal by DECC against a decision of Coulson J (see my post here) supportive of such claims.  The decision was on preliminary issues involving assumed facts, but important legal arguments advanced by DECC were rejected by the CA. 

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Supreme Court: no excuses, UK must comply with EU air pollution law


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, Supreme Court, 29 April 2015, judgment here

Bit of a history to this one, with 5 hearings so far. The short version is that in May 2013, the UK Supreme Court (here), faced with the UK’s non-compliance with EU Directive 2008/50 (nitrogen dioxide etc in air), decide  to refer various issues to the CJEU in Luxembourg.  In 2014, the CJEU said its piece, (C404-13 and my post here), and its views are now considered by the Supreme Court, hence this second SC judgment.

The UK has been in breach of Article 13 of the Air Quality Directive since 1 January 2010, by not complying with pollution limits in specified areas. ClientEarth, an environmental NGO, sought to enforce the Directive in the national courts.  Defra admitted breach of Article 13 and the lower courts said that, given that admission, it was for the EU Commission, if it wished, to take infraction proceedings.  The Supreme Court’s 2013 judgement disagreed; it granted a declaration that the UK was in breach of Article 13, and posed various questions about the meaning and enforcement of the Directive to the CJEU.

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