Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami et al v. European Parliament, CJEU, 3 October 2013 (read judgment), following Advocate General Kokott, 17 January 2013, read opinion and my post
This important case is all about “standing” before the EU courts, namely the ability to complain about some EU act that affects you. Lack of standing means that even if a measure was wrong and unlawful, you cannot get your foot in the door of the court. Domestic rules are quite relaxed, though proposals by Government to make it more difficult to sue Government and other public authorities are currently being consulted upon. But you cannot say that an EU law is unlawful without going to Luxembourg.
The EU Courts have always been very restrictive about the circumstances in which an individual can do so. A brief blip (C-50/00 UPA) a few years ago by a UK Advocate-General suggesting that things be done differently was squashed by the Court. And since then it has been one-way traffic in the EU Courts, brushing off criticism from NGOs and indeed the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee in 2011 (see here). For a good summary of the EU case law up to 2011, see the ACCC at -
Recent Treaty amendments in Lisbon have, it will be seen, made little difference to the result.
Aarhus seems to seep into cases everywhere, so I thought it was about time to start from scratch.
1. What is Aarhus? Denmark’s second city. You can write it like Århus, if you want a bit more Jutland cred. Ryanair fly there-ish (45km away).
2. How do you say it? Something like Orr-hoose: Danes, any better transliteration?
3. Why do lawyers go on about it? Because the UN-ECE Aarhus Convention was signed there in 1998. It came into force on 30 October 2001.
4. UN-ECE? United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, a regional organisation made under Article 68 of the UN Charter
5. What is the Convention about? 3 things (or pillars, in treaty-argot).
- Access to environmental information
- public participation in environmental decision-making, and
- access to justice in environmental matters.
6. Is the UK signed up? Yes, founder member. It ratified it in 2005, when the EU did.
R (on the application of LITVINENKO) v SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (2013) QBD (Admin) 4 October 2013, judgment behind Lawtel paywall UPDATED x 2
An extraordinary story which would have raised our eyebrows at its implausibility had it come from our spy novelists. In late 2006, Alexander Litvinenko was murdered by polonium-210 given to him in London. He was an ex-Russian Federation FSB agent, but by then was a UK citizen. He had accused Putin of the murder of the journalist Anna Politovskaya. He may or may not have been working for MI6 at the time of his death. The prime suspects for the killing are in Russia, not willing to help the UK with its inquiries. But rightly, in one form or another, we want to know what really happened.
Not entirely surprisingly, Marina Litvinenko said that her husband had been murdered on orders from the Russian Federation. An inquest started, though the UK Government said that much of what the coroner wanted to inquire was off limits because covered by public interest immunity. In the light of this stance, the coroner, Sir Robert Owen, a senior high court judge, had said that any investigation into Litvinenko’s death could only be adequately carried out by a public inquiry. The secretary of state refused to order such an inquiry, saying that it could take place after the inquest if necessary. The inquest continues, but it can therefore only look at part of the story.
C-363/12: A Government Department and the Board of Management of a Community School – read AG Wahl’s opinion
Case C‑167/12 : C.D. v S.T. - read AG Kokott’s opinion
Two opinions from Luxembourg on exactly the same issue, with diametrically opposed conclusions. AG Wahl (male) says, in brief, that the Pregnancy Workers Directive does what it says on the tin. It does not apply to non-pregnant employees, even though one of these might be an “intended mother” i.e. a woman who for medical reasons cannot carry a pregnancy to term, who has commissioned a surrogacy. AG Kokott (female) concludes firmly that the Pregnancy Workers Directive was designed to protect the relationship between mothers and their unborn or newborn, whether naturally produced or arranged by surrogacy. These opinions were published on the same day, with no mention in either of the other case. We can only conclude that the AGs read each other’s drafts, and decided to go to press with them together, leaving the CJEU to reconcile them in some way or another.
The Conservative Party Conference began today. As has been the case in past years, human rights policy will have a prominent role to play, but much of which is said will be bluster. The Prime Minister has already said that all options are on the table, including withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Expect more tomorrow when Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling and Home Secretary Theresa May step up to the podium from 2:30pm to 4pm.
Judging from the Prime Minister’s comments as well as Chris Grayling’s in the Spectator, it appears likely that this party conference will be similar to previous ones. Government ministers will promise that a majority Conservative government will replace “Labour’s” Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights – a longstanding Tory policy which also featured in the party’s 2010 manifesto (at p.79). The promise was scuppered after the 2010 election due to demands from coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. And, the Tories will continue to make vague threats that “people want to see the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom being in the United Kingdom and not in Strasbourg” (Grayling, a self-described “staunch Eurosceptic”) and that ECHR withdrawal “may be… where we end up” (Cameron).
Commission v. UK, Opinion of Advocate-General Kokott, 12 September 2013 read opinion here
I did an initial post here summarising this opinion from the A-G to the CJEU saying that the UK was in breach of two EU Directives about environmental assessment and pollution control – the breaches concerned our system for litigation costs. It struck me that there was a lot in the opinion, and after some re-reads, I continue to think so. So I will deal in this post with one aspect, namely the finding that the UK is in breach, in requiring an undertaking as to damages by the claimant to back up the claimant’s interim injunction – in the jargon, a cross-undertaking.
We are back on the well-trodden path of the UN-ECE Aarhus Convention to which the EU has subscribed. Article 9(4) requires that there be review procedures in environmental cases which shall provide “adequate and effective remedies including injunctive relief as appropriate, and be fair, timely and not prohibitively expensive.” And a requirement for a cross-undertaking, the A-G concluded, infringed that provision.
Commission v. UK, Opinion of Advocate-General Kokott, 12 September 2013 read opinion here
“It is well known that in United Kingdom court proceedings are not cheap” – a masterly understatement opening this opinion from our pictured AG to the CJEU about whether the UK system on legal costs complies with the obligation now in two EU Directives about environmental assessment and pollution control. The AG thinks that our way of doing costs is not up to scratch – with the origin of this obligation to be found in the UN-ECE Aarhus Convention to which the EU has subscribed (albeit abstemiously when the EU comes to its own affairs – funny that).
Bit of context – the EU has been warning the UK about costs for some years, with formal warnings going back to 2007 – and the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee has been doing likewise from Geneva. But the EU courts are more scary – all the ACCC can do is wrap the odd knuckle. And on this topic, we have one individual case which has been to the CJEU (Edwards, where the UK does not look in good shape - see my post), and now this case saying that the UK has a systemic problem with excessive costs.
But one thing we must remember. The law according to the AG looks at the law before the UK had a go at sorting the problem out – see my post, as above. on the new UK regime. There is some important stuff about how the old system did not comply, which will have implications for the new rules.
ACCC/C/2012/68 read draft findings here and ACCC/C/2010/45 read findings here
Two interesting decisions from the Geneva-based Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC) about whether the UK planning system complies with the UN-ECE Aarhus Convention.
The first was given excellent recent coverage in the Independent – a Scottish wind farm case where UK plans for renewable energy had not received the public consultation which Article 7 of the Convention required. The second, which promised much (see my previous post), ducked the issues in a rather unsatisfactory way.
Yesterday Sir Nicolas Bratza spoke candidly about the responsibility of certain UK politicians and media outlets in tarnishing this countries human rights legacy. He called on lawyers and NGOs to help rekindle the fire for human rights at home.
At an event hosted by the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) and the Law Society – “Sixty years of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): What does the future hold?” – politicians, legal practitioners, civil servants, academics and activists debated the impact of six decades of the UK’s membership of the ECHR.
C-501/11P Schindler v. European Commission, CJEU, 18 July 2013 – read judgment
Two things of general interest to the human rights lawyer in this unsuccessful attempt by Schindler to challenge a fine of a mere €143 million for anti-competitive behaviour before the EU’s top court.
The first is that the Commission’s role as investigator, prosecutor and enforcer was not found to be in breach of Article 6(1) – because its decisions were subject to “full review” by the EU judges. The second is the remark in the CJEU’s judgment that the EU status of Article 6 ECHR will change when the EU accedes to the ECHR – I shall look at whether this change will be formal or substantive, given the presence of an equivalent right in the EU Charter, within Article 47.
Like a lot of decisions involving issues of high principle, the underlying facts do not reflect well on the offending company, in this case Schindler. It, with three other companies (Kone, Otis and ThyssenKrupp), stitched up the lift and escalator markets in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Somebody tipped off the Commission, who conducted a massive investigation, and fined all these companies. As is standard, the process of investigation did not involve any oral hearing, with some limitations on the access by the accused companies to all the material which the Commission received.
As my image shows, cartel fines by the Commission involve big big money, and I dare say they dwarf any fines levied by member states on “true” criminals.
Sindacutul ‘Pastorul Cel Bun’ v. Romania  ECHR 646 – read judgment here.
The Orthodox Archbishop of Craiova in Romania, that is, not the Archbishop of Canterbury. The European Court of Human Rights recently handed down an interesting ruling on Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) that could also have more far-reaching consequences for the application of Article 9 (freedom of religion).
The Grand Chamber, overruling the earlier decision of the Third Section, held by a majority that it was not a breach of the right to freedom of association for the Romanian Government to refuse to register a trade union formed by a group of Orthodox priests, after the Archbishop and Holy Synod (the governing body of the Romanian Orthodox Church) had decided formal trade unions should not be allowed within the church.
R (o.t.a HS2AA, Buckingham County Council and others) v. Secretary of State for Transport, 24 July 2013, Court of Appeal - read judgment
HS2 is the proposed high speed rail link to Birmingham and beyond. Its opponents sought to challenge the decision to promote it by way of a hybrid Bill in Parliament, saying that the process as a whole breached the various EU rules, including the need for Strategic Environmental Assessment under the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive 2001/42/EC and the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive 2011/92/EU.
The Court of Appeal rejected these contentions, as had the judge before them. But Sullivan LJ, a highly experienced planning judge, was far from convinced. He thought that a key question about the SEA Directive ought to be determined by the EU Court (the CJEU) before domestic judges could form a settled view on it.
“Transforming the right to property” is the title of an interesting and controversial recent post (17 July 2013) on the Strasbourg Observers blog by Laurens Lavrysen. He declares his position up front:
“Reading Strasbourg case-law on a systematic basis, I always feel uncomfortable when I see the Court’s expansive protection in the field of Article 1 Protocol 1. Basically, that is because I don’t really like the idea of a human right to property for a number of reasons.”
These reasons can be summarised as (i) the right assumes the current distribution of wealth, and thus protects that status quo; (ii) the right can amount itself to a violation of other human rights – slavery being the most egregious example, though Lavrysen asserts more controversially the fact that intellectual property rights may restrict access to medicines affecting the right to health (iii) the right does not distinguish between the types of property its protects
thereby principally placing the poor man’s means of subsistence on the same footing as the millionaire’s yacht.
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v San Vicente and Carden  EWCA Civ 817, Court of Appeal, 18 June 2013 – read judgment
There is a curious if not bizarre set of anomalies about planning and environmental challenges. Where they involve an attack on a decision by the Secretary of State (typically in respect of a decision by a planning inspector after inquiry), the route is via section 288 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990. There is a strict 6 week time limit, with no discretion to extend – but no need for permission to apply as in judicial review. But where there is a challenge to any other decision, the time limit (at the moment) is 3 months, with discretion to extend – but also a discretion to disallow if the application was not “prompt” even within the 3 months (see my post on this last point) and the permission hurdle to clear.
Yet in each case the substantive grounds are effectively the same – but to what extent should procedures differ other than those required by the statutory underpinning?
The conundrum in this case was – what to do about a set of grounds (drafted by lawyers) filed after the s.288 time limit, in substitution for grounds (by the clients doing it themselves) filed within the 6 weeks.
The UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations v. Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Cranston J, 10 July 2013 read judgment
Interesting alignment of parties in this challenge to Defra’s new system of allocating fish quota brought by an industry body (UKAFPO), in practice representing the larger fishing fleet – vessels over 10 metres in length – Defra was supported by Greenpeace (how often does that happen?), and by the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association. And this was because Defra had transferred some fishing quota from the larger to the smaller fishing fleet, namely those under 10 metres in length who fish inshore waters.
The first claim was that UKAFPO had a substantive legitimate expectation in their favour which was unlawfully frustrated by Defra’s change of policy. The second was that there was a breach of Article 1 of Protocol 1 (A1P1) of ECHR, or its EU analogue, Article 17 of the Charter. The third was that UKAFPO was being discriminated against unlawfully – comparable situations must not be treated differently under EU law, and only English fishermen who were members of English fish producers organisations were affected.