Why domestic Aarhus rules are not wide enough to comply with the Convention

F_AarhusConventionSecretary of State for Communities and Local Government v. Venn, Court of Appeal, 27 November 2014  – read judgment  

Back to Aarhus and the constant problem we have in the UK making sure that the cost of planning and environmental litigation is not prohibitively expensive.

Article 9 of the Aarhus Convention (to which the EU has subscribed) says that members of the public should be able to challenge environmental decisions, and the procedures for doing so shall be adequate and effective and “not prohibitively expensive”. If this means nothing to you, you might want to limber up with my bluffers guide to Aarhus – here -not least on how to pronounce it and how it fits into domestic law.

Ms Venn wanted to stop the owner of land next door to her London property “garden-grabbing”, namely building another dwelling in his garden. The local authority had refused permission, the landowner successfully appealed to a planning inspector, and on further review, Ms Venn said that the inspector had failed to have regard to emerging planning policy in determining the appeal against her.

Lang J gave Ms Venn a protective costs order (PCO), limiting her costs exposure to £3,500 if she lost. The CA reversed this. As ever, the devil is in the detail. Had her appeal been by way of judicial review, she would have got an order in her favour. So why didn’t she?

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A spectacularly Misleading Case – nested in a real one

Alastair Sim  'Misleading Cases' (1971)Islamic Investment Co v. Symphony Gems & Mehta, 19 November 2014, Hamblen J – judgment here

Hamblen J observed that “the facts…are so extraordinary that they could have come from one of A.P. Herbert’s “Misleading Cases”. Yes indeed. A solicitor decided to make up three years of litigation, writing some fake judgments, pretending to instruct barristers, and churning out fictitious correspondence.

Why? It is not clear from the judgment, though one or two clues  are given. 

The fraud surfaced in a long-running dispute between a claimant finance company seeking repayment of a loan, and the first defendant, diamond traders, and the second and third defendant guarantors. The defendants now owe the claimant $14m. The defendants do not want to pay $14m, and have taken every point in resisting the claimant’s attempts to secure its money – so much so that in October 2010 David Steel J decided that the second defendant, Mr Rajesh Mehta go to prison for his refusal to explain where his assets were, by activating a previously suspended committal order.

The current application was Mr Mehta’s application to set aside all adverse court orders. His reasons – my solicitor had acted against me, and was deliberately trying to prejudice me in my affairs in making up all this litigation.

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Magna Carta and its progeny

National Archives Displays An Original Copy Of Magna CartaMagna Carta Uncovered, Hart Publishing, October 2014 – details here

Two old friends, Lord Judge (former Lord Chief Justice) and Anthony Arlidge QC have written a compelling and scholarly account of the 1215 political settlement known as the Magna Carta. This instrument has become something of a missile in the dust-up over  the European Convention versus “rights brought home”.

The authors have taken on the task of tracing the way in which the Magna Carta has played a part in political challenges since its inception, critically in 17th century clashes between King and Parliament (think the Five Knights and Ship Money cases and the 1689 Bill of Rights). And the Charter then formed the background for the US Bill of Rights and many constitutional settlements since. 

Magna Carta (strictly the first Magna Carta, as others followed in 1216, 1217 and 1225, to similar effect) was “granted” by King John in June 1215. Initial negotiations about the monarch’s relationship with the Church concluded on 23 November 1214 (800 years today) within the Temple in London – our authors are past and current Treasurers of the Middle Temple. The “grant” was not really that. John had been forced to make peace with his rebel barons, and the liberties forced out of the king were unwillingly conferred.

We know or think we know what Magna Carta says. But this book strips off some of the varnish which later thinkers have imposed upon it.

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Ping pong: CJEU air pollution ruling – back to the Supreme Court


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs , CJEU, 19 November 2014 – read C404-13 

In May 2013, the UK Supreme Court (here) was sufficiently concerned about the UK’s lack of compliance  with EU legislation, Directive 2008/50 (nitrogen dioxide etc in air)  to refer various issues to the CJEU in Luxembourg.

The UK has been in breach of Article 13 the Directive since 1 January 2010, because 40 “zones and agglomerations”  had nitrogen dioxide at concentrations greater than the limit values set out in the Directive. ClientEarth, an environmental NGO, sought to enforce the Directive in the national courts.  Defra admitted breach of Article 13 and, given the admission, the first instance judge and the Court of Appeal said that there was no point in granting any declaratory relief. It was for the EU Commission, if it wished, to take infraction proceedings. And those lower courts disagreed with ClientEarth’s interpretation of the Directive, which, as we shall see, has now for the first time been upheld by the CJEU.

The Supreme Court went rather further; it granted a declaration that the UK was in breach of Article 13, and posed various questions about the meaning of the Directive to the CJEU.

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Wind turbines, noise and public information

3844964938R (o.t.a Joicey) v. Northumberland County Council , 7 November 2014, Cranston J  read judgment

An interesting decision about a Council not supplying some key information about a wind turbine project to the public until very late in the day. Can an objector apply to set the grant of permission aside? Answer: yes, unless the Council can show that it would have inevitably have come to the same conclusion, even if the information had been made public earlier.

Mr Barber, a farmer, wanted to put up one turbine (47m to tip) on his land. The claimant was an objector, another farmer who lives 4km away, and who campaigns about subsidies for renewables – it is him in the pic. The planning application was complicated by the fact that an application for 6 turbines at Barmoor nearby had already been approved (where Mr Joicey is standing), and the rules on noise from wind turbines looks at the total noise affecting local people, not just from Mr Barber’s turbine.

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Private nuisance – Article 6 and the costs conundrum

400px-Ffos_Y_Fran_open_cast_mine,_Merthyr_TydfilCoventry v. Lawrence [2014] UKSC 13, 23 July 2014, read judgment and Austin v. Miller Argent [2014] EWCA Civ 1012, 21 July 2014 read judgment

Two important cases in the last few days showing how difficult it is to find a fair way to litigate private nuisance cases.  Most of these claims have a modest financial value, but may raise complex factual and expert issues, even before you get to the law. The first case I shall deal with, Coventry, shows the iniquities of the recently departed system. The second, Austin, the dangers of the new.

Coventry is the sequel to the speedway case about which I posted in March – here. The”relatively small”  local speedway business ended up being ordered to pay £640,000 by way of costs after the trial. More than half of this was no-win-no-fee uplift and insurance premium combined. Indeed, the Supreme Court was so disturbed by this that they have ordered a further hearing to decide whether such a costs bill was in breach of Article 6 of the ECHR.

Austin is a claim concerning noise and dust affecting the claimant’s house close to an open-cast mine on the edge of Merthyr Tydfil: see pic. Before I go further, I should say that I represented Mrs Austin at an earlier stage of these proceedings.

In the present hearing, she unsuccessfully sought an order limiting the costs which she might have to pay if she lost the litigation (a protective costs order or PCO).

So each case is about a costs burden, which is capable of causing injustice to one or other party.

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Successful A1P1 claims by photovoltaics

Breyer Group plc and others v Department of Energy and Climate Change [2014] EWHC 2257 (QB) – Coulson J read judgment 

This is an important judgment on governmental liability for a rather shabby retrospective change of the rules about subsidies for photovoltaic schemes. The Court of Appeal had decided in 2012 that the changes were unlawful: see judgment  and my post here.  The question in Breyer was whether businesses could obtain damages under A1P1 arising out of the Secretary of State’s decision. Though the judgment proceeds on a number of assumed facts, some critical findings of law were in favour of the businesses.

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