Biowatch Trust v Registrar Genetic Resources and Others (CCT 80/08)  ZACC 14 – read judgment
Costs again, I am afraid, and how to make sure that ordinary people can litigate important cases without being stifled by a huge costs bill if they lose.
I have a certain amount of “form” for it on this blog, but it is important stuff. It is worth seeing where we have got to, and measuring that progress against the response to the same problem from an avowedly constitutional court, that of South Africa.
Here we are, back with the access to environmental information question…From rape, bees and lettuces , a coda, involving a diversion via a new road scheme planned for Aberdeen taking in pearls and badgers, crossing the River Dee Special Area of Conservation.
An opponent of the project brought a claim against the UK government before the Aarhus Compliance Committee; findings of the Committee were adopted on 25 February 2011. The complaints ranged far and wide but the point of interest arose under an exemption to disclosure in Article 4 of the Aarhus Convention, namely that disclosure would adversely affect “(h) the environment to which the information relates, such as the breeding sites of rare species.” This has found its way into reg.12(5)(g) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004/3391, shorn, in a typically English way, of the helpful explanatory words underlined. Wouldn’t want the reader to get its meaning at a glance, would one?
On 6 April 2011, the European Commission announced that it has decided to refer the UK Government to the Court of Justice of the European Communities under Article 258 TFEU, for failing to provide affordable access to justice in environmental cases.
This blog has previouslycharted some of the twists and turns in the process of showing that environmental challenges are currently “prohibitively expensive” within the meaning of Article 9(4) of the Aarhus Convention – not the least of which was a complaint to the Aarhus Compliance Committee which was upheld by that Committee in October 2010. And the underlying concern is the state of the costs rules under which a claimant may be ordered to pay tens of thousands of pounds of costs if he loses, despite the developing case law on Protective Costs Orders designed to mitigate this. Continue reading →
A little cluster of cases has recently been decided which bear on the nature and extent to which environmental information is accessible to the public. They involve Somerset oilseed rape, pesticide residues in Dutch lettuces, and Scottish mobile phone masts. And we visit some German apiarists to consider the implications of such information being or not being provided. So hold on to your hat.
In G.M. Freeze v. DEFRA (8 March 2011), the aptly-named appellant wanted to obtain the six-digit National Grid reference for a field in Somerset. The farmer had sown some supposedly conventional oilseed rape seed in which there was, unbeknownst to him and the seed manufacturer, some genetically-modified seed at a concentration of 5 plants per 10,000. The crop thus grown then cross-pollinated with the neighbouring field of oilseed rape, contaminating the latter to 1 part per 10,000. Continue reading →
Smartsource v Information Commissioner + 19 other parties  UKUT 415 (AAC) 23rd November 2010 – read judgment
Ibsen’s Enemy of the People has Dr Stockmann complaining to his Norwegian municipality about contamination of its water supply. We think that these sorts of disputes are part of a modern problem, so it is striking to find Ibsen being invoked, judicially, in this far from 19th century fight about environmental information.
The question was the less than dramatic one as to whether information about water and wastewater billing etc was environmental information, and that in turn involved deciding whether water companies and sewage undertakers were “public authorities”. Ibsen might not have found that answer too difficult to provide: what local authorities used to do in the 19th century and much of the 20th century, here, in Norway, and elsewhere, included supplying you with clean water and taking away your foul water. Continue reading →
Hard on the heels of the UN-ECE Aarhus Compliance Committee (see my previous post), Lord Justice Sullivan’s Working Party on Access to Environmental Justice has similarly condemned the current system under which judicial review claimants face an onerous costs burden when they advance claims which do not ultimately succeed.
The Working Party reported initially in May 2008 on access to justice in environmental cases, and was critical of the current costs regime. Its current focus is rather narrower that the recent conclusions of the Aarhus Compliance Committee, but potentially more effective thanks to that focus. It reviews the rather fuzzy case-law on Protective Costs Orders, fashioned by the judges to help Claimants against unlimited costs liabilities. The report can be read here.
A Geneva-based international committee has just said (provisionally) that domestic judicial review law is in breach of international law in environmental cases. Why? And does it matter? In this post we will try and explain why, and suggest that it does matter.
On 25 August 2010, the UN-ECE Aarhus Compliance Committee issued draft rulings in two long-running environmental challenges which, if confirmed, may have wide implications for how environmental judicial reviews are conducted in the UK. A key finding was that such challenges were “prohibitively expensive” to mount and this puts the UK in breach of its “access to justice” obligations under Article 9(4) of the Aarhus Convention. In addition, the Committee ruled that the UK’s grounds for judicial review of the substantive legality of decisions were too narrow, and said that the domestic rules as to timing of these challenges were insufficiently certain.
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