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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Why Mrs Litvinenko did not get her PCO – but what if it had been an environmental claim?

Marina LitvinenkoR (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.

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What is a “public authority” for the purposes of environmental information?

water_tapFish Legal v The Information Commissioner, United Utilities, Yorkshire Water and Southern Water (Case C-279/12) – read Opinion of AG Cruz Villalon

In this most recent case concerning access by private individuals to environmental information held by public authorities,  the AG grasps the nettlish question of what precisely a public authority is. The issue was a subject of debate because the request for information had  been addressed to private companies which manage a public service relating to the environment.  The question therefore was whether, even though the companies concerned are private, they may be regarded as “public authorities” for the purposes of the Directive governing access to environmental information (Directive 2003/4).

Clearly the definition of the concept of “public authority” is an issue of importance not just in relation to access to information, but across the board, whether involving EU law or the application of the Human Rights Act 1998 and judicial review in domestic law. Continue reading

The CJEU on “prohibitively expensive” and the new protective costs order regime

R (Edwards & Pallikaropoulos) v. Environment Agency et al, 11 April 2013, read CJEU judgment, and read Opinion of A-G Kokott,

and the Civil Procedure Rules 45.41 to 45.44, in force from 1 April 2013, with Practice Direction 45

Twin developments, both of which are important for those involved in environmental cases. They emerge from the UK’s treaty obligations flowing from the Aarhus Convention under which it is obliged to ensure that environmental cases are not “prohibitively expensive” per Article 9(4) of the Convention.

The first development is a decision by the CJEU on the meaning of those words.

The second is a new set of rules providing for protective costs orders in environmental judicial review claims. Continue reading

When does a case become “prohibitively expensive”?

R (Edwards & another) v. Environment Agency, Opinion of A-G Kokott, CJEU, 18 October 2012, read opinion – updated

In environmental cases, this costs question arises in a sharp-focussed way, because the UK is committed by Treaty obligations (the Aarhus Convention) and specific provisions of EU law to ensure that environmental cases are not “prohibitively expensive.”: Article 9(4) of the Convention. 

My further thoughts on this case are found here.

The issue arose because a domestic judicial review got to the House of Lords and the claimant lost. She was ordered to pay the costs. In due course, the matter came before the Supreme Court who asked the Court of Justice of the European Union to say what “prohibitively expensive” means in the Convention. The first and obvious question is – prohibitive to whom? No litigation may be prohibitively expensive to Mr Abramovich. Any costs liability may deter someone on state benefits.

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A coach and Aarhus through the planning system? Third party rights under scrutiny


The Geneva-based Aarhus Compliance Committee is considering a wide-ranging pair of challenges to the planning system claiming that it does not comply with the Aarhus Convention on Environmental Matters. The Committee (ACC) heard oral submissions on 27 June 2012, and on 12 August received what should be the last of the written submissions of the parties.  A decision may emerge before the end of the year, but there is so much interesting material in the papers before the Committee (for which see this and this link) which is worth having a look at.

The challenges raise a whole host of issues – the key ones are:

(i) not all planning committees allow objectors to address them orally before making a planning decision – when they do, they get a bare 3 minutes to say their piece;

(ii) an objector cannot appeal the grant of planning permission; all he can do is seek judicial review if the planning authority err in law, with the potential costs consequences which that involves; compare the developer who has a full appeal on fact and law;

(iii) an objector cannot enforce planning conditions attached to a grant; all he can do is challenge the local authority if it refuses to enforce, again on a point of law;

(iv) the UK does not comply with Article 6 of the Convention in that not all projects likely to have an effect on the environment are properly challengeable;

(v) the UK does not comply with Article 7 of the Convention in respect of public participation in all plans which may relate to the environment.

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When the EU implements Aarhus against itself, oh, how minimally it does it.


On the EU watch again, I am afraid. We have looked at getting documents out of the EU, in the context of the IFAW case about the German Chancellor’s letter, via Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 (the EU Access to Information Regulation). And also on how to seek annulment of  EU laws and decisions from the EU courts (Inuits and all that). Both apply to all EU issues. We have mused on what might happen if the EU institutions sign up to the ECHR, so that complaints about them can go to the Strasbourg Court.

Now we return to environmental cases, where there is a specific measure, EU Aarhus Regulation 1367/2006, which applies the Aarhus Convention to EU institutions. We have seen how in a specific context this Regulation must be interpreted in the light of the meaning of the Convention:  my post on the pesticides and air quality challenges, where the General Court of the EU effectively ignored the words “of individual scope” in the Regulation to make the Regulation comply with the Convention. But I am now going to have a look at this measure more generally. Remember we are not here dealing with getting environmental information out of member states; that question is dealt with via a separate EU Directive (2003/4), transposed in the UK by the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

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