Gamekeeper’s environmental Aarhus claim to shoot buzzards?

Buteo_buteo_-Netherlands-8McMorn (R, on the application of) v Natural England [2015] EWHC 3297 (Admin) – read judgment

An interesting point arose in this judicial review (for which see Rosalind English’s post here). Could the claimant could get the benefit of an order that any costs he might have had to pay were capped at £5,000? The original judge, Thirlwall J, when granting permission, had refused this costs protection. Ouseley J granted it, though, because the claimant won, the order is academic (short of a successful appeal by the defendant). 

This kind of costs protection only applies when the claim is an environmental claim covered by the Aarhus Convention: see a whole list of posts at the end of this one, including the true bluffer’s guide here. The UK has been dragged kicking and screaming into compliance with the Aarhus costs requirements, that environmental challenges not be “prohibitively expensive”, thanks to a combination of the Convention’s own enforcement body and the EU Court in Luxembourg.

But the domestic courts have had some difficulty in deciding what is or is not comes within an environmental challenge.

As we will see, the judge also thought that an Aarhus claim requires a more intensive review of the substantive decision than might have been applied had the claim been a typical domestic challenge on grounds of irrationality. I deal with that point first.

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Supreme Court: no-win-no-fee costs regime compatible with Article 6

11769Coventry v. Lawrence [2015] UKSC 50, 22 July 2015, read judgment here

The pre-April 2013 Conditional Fee Agreement system, under which claimants could recover uplifts on their costs and their insurance premiums from defendants, has survived – just. It received a sustained challenge from defendants to the effect that such a system was in breach of their Article 6 rights to a fair trial.

In a seven-justice court there was a strongly-worded dissent of two, and two other justices found the case “awkward.”

The decision arises out of the noisy speedway case about which I posted in March 2014 – here. The speedway business ended up being ordered to pay £640,000 by way of costs after the trial. On an initial hearing (my post here), the Supreme Court was so disturbed by this that they ordered a further hearing to decide whether this was compatible with Article 6 .

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Water companies are public authorities and must therefore disclose environmental information

water_tapFish Legal v Information Commissioner and others (Information rights practice and procedure) [2015] UKUT 52 (AAC) Charles J – read judgment

Water and sewage utility companies are “public authorities” for the purposes of the environmental information regulations, and are bound by them accordingly, the Administrative Appeals Chamber of the Upper Tribunal has ruled.

Fish Legal is the legal arm of the Angling Trust. In 2009 it asked United Utilities Water plc and Yorkshire Water Services Ltd for information relating to discharges, clean-up operations, and emergency overflow. Emily Shirley is a private individual. Again, she asked Southern Water Services Ltd for information relating to sewerage capacity for a planning proposal in her village. All three companies denied that they were under a duty to provide the information under Environmental Information Regulations. Both Fish Legal and Mrs Shirley complained to the Commissioner. In 2010 the Commissioner replied, explaining that as the companies were not public authorities for the purposes of EIR, he had no power to adjudicate the complaints. Continue reading

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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