Supreme Court brings private nuisance into the 21st century

270866141Coventry v. Lawrence [2014] UKSC 13, 26 February 2014, read judgment

The law of private nuisance is the way of balancing the rights of neighours, the right to be noisy or smelly, and to be free of noise or smells. Hitherto it is has been explicitly a private law remedy, and has slightly odd rules. But it has been struggling with public interests for some years; are they irrelevant, or can they carry the day for claimant or defendant in a private nuisance claim?

Fortunately, enough of the big issues bedevilling this area of the law came before the Supreme Court in one fell swoop. And they have led to an important re-balancing of the rules. In particular, public interest is relevant, but not at the first stage of deciding whether someone has a claim, but later – can they get an injunction to stop the noise or should they be confined to damages?

 And all this arose in the context of some speedway, stock car, banger and motocross racing in an otherwise fairly rural bit of Suffolk.

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Aarhus: CJEU rules against UK costs regime

F_AarhusConventionCommission v. UK, judgment of CJEU, 13 February 2014  – read judgment – UPDATED

Litigation costs are troublesome, but they are particularly difficult in environmental cases where the claimant is not necessarily pursuing his private interests. This case is the result of a long-running and successful campaign by NGOs to persuade the EU Commission to investigate UK environmental legal costs. The main finding may not bother the UK too much, because wisely it saw this one coming and changed costs rules in environmental public law cases. A subsidiary ruling about cross-undertakings has also been more recently included in a rule change.

 

All of this comes from Article 9 of the Aarhus Convention (to which the EU has subscribed) which 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”. Continue reading

Grayling’s proposals for environmental and planning judicial review

mus_1192620167Sections 50 to 57 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill and Explanatory Notes; the full Government response is here, 4 February 2014

At first sight, proposals full of sound and fury, and signifying not a great deal for planning and environmental challenges. There are some slippery costs changes which we need to look at, but some of the potentially more concerning proposals (see Adam’s post and the linked posts) do not fully apply to this area, as I shall explain. There are also some perfectly sensible proposals about harmonising planning challenges which lawyers have been advocating for years.

This consultation got going in September 2013 when Grayling put forward his round 2 of reform to judicial review in a wide-ranging, and frankly worrying, consultation paper. This week’s announcement and draft bill seeks to take some of these measures forward, but leaves others at home.

Mercifully, the bill does not include the ill-thought out consultation proposal to reform rules about standing in judicial review – who can complain of unlawful action by government? The proposal had been very worrying to those concerned with environmental challenges. It would have led to the rather unsatisfactory position that a NIMBY complaining about a nearby development would have been able to challenge an unlawful decision, but an entirely altruistic concern about unlawfulness affecting, say, birds, bats or habitats would have been dismissed not on the merits, but because the NGO or individual conservationist had insufficient “interest” in the outcome. See my previous post on this.

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High speed rail, Parliament, and the EU Courts

World war one tankR (o.t.a HS2AA, Buckingham County Council and others) v. Secretary of State for Transport, [2014] UKSC 3 – read judgments

So the challenge to the way in which the Government wished to push the HS2 project through Parliament has failed before the Supreme Court, though not without clarifying the way in which key EU environmental provisions are meant to work. And we will also see a further flexing of the Court’s muscles against a too straightforward reading of the supremacy of EU law when seen against our constitutional principles.  

The objectors said the command paper which preceded the Parliamentary hybrid bill, in which the Government set out its proposals for HS2, fell within the scope of the  Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive 2001/42/EC and that an SEA ought therefore to have been carried out. The directive applies to plans or programmes which set a “framework” (Art.3(2)(a)) for future decisions whether to grant development consent for projects, and it was said that the command paper set the framework for the decision whether to grant consent for HS2.

Secondly, the objectors said that the legislative procedure in Parliament does not meet the requirements of the  Environmental Impact Assessment Directive 2011/92/EU. The EU Court of Justice has interpreted that directive as imposing a number of requirements, including that the legislature must have available to it the information required by the directive, and a requirement that national courts must be able to verify that the requirements of the directive have been satisfied, taking account of the entire legislative process, including the preparatory documents and the parliamentary debates. Continue reading

What really goes on in the Supreme Court

9781849463836On 9 December 2013, Professor Paterson launched his new book, Final Judgment (Hart Publishing, absolutely no relation), via the Second annual Bailii lecture, Decision-making in the UK’s top court – read lecture here, order book here (£21.25, Amazon) or direct from the publishers at £20 here (reference ‘PATERSON’ to get the further discount)

The lecture summarises a wise, perceptive, and at times funny work of scholarship, and this post is an unashamed plea that you read the book as well as the lecture.

The book is based upon over 100 interviews with Law Lords, Justices and counsel. Paterson is particularly well-placed, having carried out a review in the 1970s with 15 then current or former Law Lords and 46 counsel. He has also looked at the judicial notebooks of two of the outstanding leaders of the judicial House of Lords, namely Lord Reid in the 1960s and 1970s, and Lord Bingham in the 2000s. These notebooks contain not only records of counsel’s arguments, but also details of what the Law Lords or Justices thought at the end of the “first conference” held immediately after the oral hearing. And the revelation was that in many important cases the judges’ view shifted between that conference and the ultimate decision, often with a critical impact on the outcome. One of the particular interests of the book is to follow through the big cases of the last years, and see how the judges ended up where they did.

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The Supreme Court on “prohibitively expensive” costs: Aarhus again

R (Edwards & Pallikaropoulos) v. Environment Agency et al, Supreme Court, 11 December 2013 read judgment

This is the last gasp in the saga on whether Mrs Pallikaropoulos should bear £25,000 of the costs of her unsuccessful 2008 appeal to the House of Lords. And the answer, after intervening trips to the Supreme Court in 2010 and to the CJEU in 2013, is a finding by the Supreme Court that she should bear those costs.

The judgment by Lord Carnwath (for the Court) is a helpful application of the somewhat opaque reasoning of the European Court on how to decide whether an environmental case is “prohibitively expensive” per Article 9(4) of the Aarhus Convention, and thus whether the court should protect the claimant against such liabilities. The judgment also considers the guidance given by A-G Kokott more recently in infraction proceedings against the UK for breaches of that provision: see my post.

But note that the dispute has been largely overtaken by recent rule changes, and so we should start with these before looking at the judgment.

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Materiality in environmental judicial review

luftbild_web_klein_bGemeinde Altrip et al v. Land Rheinland-Pfalz, CJEU, 7 November 2013 – read judgment

When you challenge a decision in the courts on the basis that it was unlawful, you must show that the wrong is material. The other side may say that the wrong led to no difference in the decision; it would have inevitably have been the same even if the defendant had acted lawfully. The onus is on you the claimant, but it is not at the moment a high one. Only a possibility of a different outcome is enough to get you home and the decision quashed.

This materiality issue was one of the points in this challenge by local landowners to a flood retention scheme affecting some 320 ha of their land in the former Rhine flood plain. The scheme had undergone an environmental impact assessment which the locals said was defective. But did the locals have to show that correcting the defects might have made a difference to the ultimate decision? That was one of the questions which the German federal administrative court referred to the EU Court.

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