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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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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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

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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Aarhus, A-G Kokott’s opinion, and the PCO reciprocal cap

julianekokott-300x192Commission v. UK, Opinion of Advocate-General Kokott, 12 September 2013              read opinion here 

Forgive me for returning to this case, but it raises all sorts of questions. On the face of it, it concerns 2 specific environmental directives, but it has implications for costs generally in environmental cases.

And why do I go on about costs? Because the prospect of being seriously out of pocket deters even the most altruistic environmentalist if they lose. Some may be purely NIMBYs, but most have a rather wider sense of the things that matter and that is not just about protecting their own assets. Claimants are normally up against public authorities and/or developers, so the balance of power has to be struck in the right place between them.

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Aarhus for real beginners

aarhus

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.

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Aarhus, the A-G, and why the rules on interim remedies need to change

SheernessCommission 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.

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