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

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: UK seems to be in trouble again, this time with the CJEU

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

“It is well known that in United Kingdom court proceedings are not cheap” – a masterly understatement opening this opinion from our pictured AG to the CJEU about whether the UK system on legal costs complies with the obligation now in two EU Directives about environmental assessment and pollution control. The AG thinks that our way of doing costs is not up to scratch – with the origin of this obligation to be found in  the UN-ECE Aarhus Convention to which the EU has subscribed (albeit abstemiously when the EU comes to its own affairs – funny that). 

Bit of context – the EU has been warning the UK about costs for some years, with formal warnings going back to 2007 – and the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee has been doing likewise from Geneva. But the EU courts are more scary – all the ACCC can do is wrap the odd knuckle. And on this topic, we have one individual case which has been to the CJEU (Edwards, where the UK does not look in good shape - see my post), and now this case saying that the UK has a systemic problem with excessive costs.

But one thing we must remember. The law according to the AG looks at the law before the UK had a go at sorting the problem out – see my post, as above. on the new UK regime. There is some important stuff about how the old system did not comply, which will have implications for the new rules.

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Aarhus watch: a UK breach, and a fudge

023stirling1DM_468x312ACCC/C/2012/68 read draft findings here and ACCC/C/2010/45 read findings here

Two interesting decisions from the Geneva-based Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC) about whether the UK planning system complies with the UN-ECE Aarhus Convention.

The first was given excellent recent coverage in the Independent – a Scottish wind farm case where UK plans for renewable energy had not received the public consultation which Article 7 of the Convention required. The second, which promised much (see my previous post), ducked the issues in a rather unsatisfactory way.

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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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