Benkharbouche & Anor v Foreign & Commonwealth Office  UKSC 62, 18 October 2017 – read judgment
If you work for an embassy in London and are not a UK national, you cannot sue your employing state when you get unfairly dismissed. But if you enter a commercial contract with the same embassy, you can sue them.
This is the conundrum which faced the Supreme Court, who decided that the former result, although laid down by statute, was incompatible with Article 6 of the ECHR.
The SC’s sole judgment was by Lord Sumption, with whom the other justices agreed. It is a tour de force of international (rather than human rights) law, because therein lay the key issue.
ACCC Findings in ACCC/C/2008/32
Last week’s post concerned the judicial review costs system in environmental cases and its compliance with the prohibitively expensive rule Art.9(4) of the Aarhus Convention.
Now for some more Aarhus developments which happened over the summer, this time involving the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC) having a pop at the narrow EU standing rules applicable to challenges to an act or omission by a EU body, and the EU not liking those findings at all.
RSPB, Friends of the Earth & Client Earth v. Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 2309 (Admin), 15 September 2017, Dove J – judgment here
In my March 2017 post here, I explained that amendments to the costs rules for public law environmental claims threatened to undo much of the certainty that those rules had achieved since 2013. Between 2013 and February 2017, if you, an individual, had an environmental judicial review, then you could pretty much guarantee that your liability to the other side’s costs would be capped at £5,000 (£10,000 for companies) if you lost, and your recovery of your own costs would be limited to £35,000 if you won. In this way, the rules sought to avoid the cost of such claims becoming prohibitively expensive and thus in breach of Art.9(4) of the Aarhus Convention.
The most worrying element in the February 2017 amendments was a new CPR 45.44 giving the courts a broad discretion to vary those amounts, apparently at any time. This seemed like an open invitation to the defendants to try to do this, aided by the financial information which claimants are now obliged to provide. It was truly regressive, taking us back to the days when you spent many thousands of pounds arguing about a protective costs order which was intended to save money.
In my March post, I explained that the new rules were being challenged by NGOs, and Friday’s judgment is the upshot of this challenge.
It is essentially a success for the NGOs.
Review of Fixed Recoverable Costs: Supplemental Report, 31 July 2017 – here
Jackson LJ is still toiling away at costs issues some 8 years after his main report. The original report changed the whole way in which the civil courts go about working how much, if anything, is due from one side to another at the end of a case – budgets being one key element. The main part of this new report concerns extending fixed costs further.
This post is about something different, judicial review. Rather different factors may come into play when you are challenging public authorities. You may have a direct financial or other interest in the outcome, or you may just think that the law needs properly enforcing against those authorities. It does not follow that the winner should recover costs on the same rules as elsewhere in the civil system. And Jackson LJ returns to the question of costs in this context in Chapter 10 of his report.
Since 2013, things have been different in the area of environmental judicial reviews. With substantial prods from the EU, things are now better off for claimants, though recent reforms have sought to put further obstacles in the way of claimants: see my post here.
So it is refreshing to read something from a very senior judge which recognises the true value of judicial review as a whole and why the costs rules need adjusting in this area for the benefit of claimants.
I posted recently on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and its approach to rolling over EU-derived laws into our domestic law. But a law is only as good as its enforcement makes it, and so we all need to think how this is going to be done post-Brexit.
NB: there is nothing in the Bill which touches on enforcement; that is for later, if at all.
The issue arises particularly starkly in the environmental field, where there are not so many players with direct legal and commercial interests around (as in, say, equal pay or competition law) to seek consistent enforcement.
A task force within the UK Environmental Law Association (chaired by Professor Richard Macrory and Andrew Bryce, left and right in the pic) has been applying its mind to this enforcement problem, and on 18 July 2017 published a short and powerful report on the issue – Brexit and Environment Law. Its main messages are these.