Coventry v. Lawrence  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 .
Fish Legal v Information Commissioner and others (Information rights practice and procedure)  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
Secretary 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?
Coventry v. Lawrence  UKSC 13, 23 July 2014, read judgment and Austin v. Miller Argent  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.
Commission 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
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.
Commission 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.