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 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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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

Have human rights hijacked the language of morals? – and other questions: Laws

Lord Justice Laws’ Inaugural Lecture at Northumbria University, 1 November 2012 – read here 

This is a fascinating and provocative lecture raising important questions about the extent to which the culture of human rights has become the currency of our moral dealings with each other and the State.

Adam commented briefly on Laws’ speech here but since it deserves a post of its own I will try to capture its essence and highlight some of its main features here without I hope too many spoilers.

Laws suggests, as Adam mentioned, that rights should properly be the duty of the State to deliver as an aspect of the public interest, not its enemy. The problem is that we have exalted rights beyond their status of public goods (along with health care, defence, education and so on) into primary moral values served to us not by the government but by the courts. Consequently these two institutions are seen to be serving opposite interests. The entrenchment of rights in morality in Laws’ view carries great danger.

It is that rights, a necessary legal construct, come also to be seen as a necessary moral construct. Applied to the morality of individuals, this is a bad mistake. Continue reading

The BAILII lecture: No Judgment, No Justice

For justice to be seen to be done, judgments given in open court must be accessible in two senses. They must be clearly written so that a reasonably well informed member of the public can understand what is being decided. But they must also be available to the public, and in this sense their accessibility depends on their being reported.

Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, so stated in the first BAILII annual lecture, hosted by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP at their premises in Fleet Street last night. The full speech can be read here.

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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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Youth restraint challenge rejected by High Court

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) v Secretary of State for Justice and G4S Care and Justice Services (UK) Ltd  and Serco plc [2012] EWHC 8 (Admin) – read judgment

Although certain restraining measures had been taken unlawfully against young people in secure training centres for a number of years, the court had no jurisdiction to grant an order that the victims of this activity be identified and advised of their rights.

The claimant charity alleged that children and young persons held in one or other of the four Secure Training Centres in the UK had been unlawfully restrained under rules which approved certain techniques of discipline. It sought an order requiring the defendant to provide information, to the victims or their carers on the unlawful nature of restraint techniques used in Secure Training Centres (“STCs”) and their consequential legal rights.

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What can an Environmental Tribunal do?

Access to environmental justice is a subject close to the hearts of various contributors to this blog, as one can see from the posts listed below. But not only to them – Sullivan LJ was the chairman of the working group that in 2008 wrote Ensuring Access to Environmental Justice in England and Wales”. Jackson LJ returned to the issue in his report on the costs of civil litigation. In December last year the Supreme Court referred to the Court of Justice of the EU, Edwards, a case about the English costs regime, and whether it complies with the Aarhus convention. Finally, in April 2011 the European Commission said it was going to refer the UK to the CJEU for failing to comply with the costs element of the Convention.

So the UKELA seminar on “Developing the new Environmental Tribunal” hosted by Simmons & Simmons on 16th May 2011, was timely, to say the least, particularly as the speakers included Lord Justice Sullivan, and Lord Justice Carnwath the senior president of the Tribunals, and Professor Richard Macrory Q.C., author of a new report on the Environment Tribunal.

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No legal aid cuts to avoid bad days in court

R (on the application of Evans) v The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice [2011] EWHC 1146 (Admin) – Read judgment

The High Court has found that the Ministry of Justice, when making a decision to cease the state’s funding of judicial review challenges on purely public interest grounds (apart from one exception), took into account the fact that to do so would reduce the number of decisions being made which were not in the government’s interests. Unsurprisingly, the Court to concluded that the decision was unlawful and should be quashed.

The Applicant applied for judicial review of a decision by the Respondent to amend the Legal Services Commission (LSC) Funding Code, which funds litigation for those who meet certain criteria. The effect of the amendments, which were introduced in April 2010, was to prevent public funding by the LSC for judicial review proceedings (challenging decisions of public bodies) which were pure public interest challenges. That is, where the Applicant stood to gain nothing from the litigation and was bringing it solely to promote a particular public interest. The one exception was in environmental cases.

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Justice’s hidden backbone – a tribute to BAILII

By all accounts, it has been a gloomy year for access to justice. The legal aid budget is to be reduced by £350m and state assistance has effectively disappeared in non-criminal cases. The overall justice budget, which is already low by international standards, is to be cut by a further 23%. But believe it or not, there may be reasons to be cheerful.

In the virtual world, legal blogs are becoming an established voice in the UK legal community and the flourishing blogosphere has given the public a lively, accessible and most importantly free new way of engaging with the law. With legal aid becoming scarcer and Citizens Advice Bureaus losing their funding, free information services such can be the last resort for those who seek legal help without having to pay for a lawyer.

But none of these services would exist without their hidden backbone: BAILII. To that end, when Legal Week published its excellent review of legal blogging  last month, the failure to mention BAILII caused a min-revolution from a gaggle of legal bloggers in the comments section.

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New legislation website launched, updated to 2002

The government has launched a sparkly looking but as yet scantily featured new legislation website, legislation.gov.uk, to replace the two websites which previously did the same job, OPSI and the Statute Law Database.

One notable absence from the National Archives-run site is any guarantee that the statutes will be up to date after 2002. This was also a limitation of its predecessors, which is why lawyers generally avoided them for fear of unknowingly using an out-of-date statute. “About half” of the legislation is now up to date, according to the frequently asked questions section. This is surprising given the amount of money which is spent on Government IT; the new website asking what laws people want scrapped will apparently alone cost £20,000.

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European Commission warns the UK about unfair cost of challenging environmental decisions

The European Commission has sent an official warning letter to the UK regarding the prohibitive expense of challenging the legality of environmental decisions.

The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention) was signed by the United Kingdom in 1998, and came into force in October 2001.  It was ratified by the United Kingdom in February 2005, at the same time as its ratification by the European Community.  Article 9(4) of the Convention provides that access to environmental justice must be fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive.

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) does not provide for a specific human right to a clean environment, nor a right to environmental justice, although Article 2 (right to life), Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 8 (respect for family and private life) do provide some scope for environmental protection, Conventions such as Aarhus are important in supporting these rights in an environmental context, particularly where the ECHR may provide inadequate protection. This connection is recognised in the preamble to the Aarhus Convention which identifies that, “the adequate protection of the environment is essential for human well-being and the enjoyment of basic human rights, including the right to life itself.”

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