Maggots, sewage, bats, butterflies and Brexit

Leigh Day and the Human Rights Lawyers Association  hosted a full house on Wednesday 22 March when Claire McGregor and David Hart QC from 1 Crown Office Row joined Sarah Sackman from Francis Taylor Building, Adrienne Copithorne from Richard Buxton LLP and Rebekah Read from Leigh Day to speak about how to become an environmental lawyer.

The audience heard how on her first day working in environmental law, Claire McGregor boarded a plane to the Ivory Coast to work on the Trafigura case involving 30,000 claimants suing oil multinational Trafigura for compensation following a toxic oil spill. The case went on to become the largest group litigation case in the UK. More recently she has been involved in group litigation concerning odours from an animal by-products rendering plant. There has been animal processing on site for more than 100 years, with early uses involving maggot breeding; before the First World War, it was thought that the fumes of the maggotorium cured common ailments.  Today it converts animal carcass into useful proteins.

Adrienne Copithorne was drawn to environmental law as an ideal combination of public law and land law. She described cases as diverse as judicially reviewing planning permissions in order to prevent cockle harvest decline, challenging London park closures for ticketed music festivals, and acting for the owners of a large country estate affected by noise from RAF Harrier jets.

For Sarah Sackman, the bread and butter of environmental law practice was less about being Erin Brockovich and more likely to involve sewage, bats and butterflies. To be effective you need to consider regulatory, EU, public and criminal law, and to be able to use them creatively. Describing environmental law as engaging socio-economic collective rights more often than human rights, its importance lies in ensuring that decisions affecting the environment include public participation and consideration of sound evidence.

Rebekah Read spoke about her experience working on the Shell Niger Delta case, which involved claims brought in the UK on behalf of two Nigerian communities who suffered following large scale oil spills from the energy company’s pipelines in the Niger Delta. The case settled in 2015 for £55 million damages.

David Hart QC cited site visits as one of the many perks of being an environmental lawyer – including his experience staring into an electrostatic precipitator in a disused power station, and more recently inspecting shingly beaches and being treated to a fully-foraged meal afterwards. He is currently working on claims for damages for the loss of property values caused by Japanese knotweed.

A lively question and answer followed. Discussing the likely effect of Brexit and the Great Repeal Bill on environmental law, Sarah Sackman suggested that the real risk would be the political temptation to cut “green” tape in order to fast track infrastructure projects in pursuit of economic growth, at the cost of environmental protections. David Hart thought that although the system of EU-inspired environmental impact assessment would survive, the EU’s strict habitat protection laws may be vulnerable to attack from pro-business political interests.

For those keen to practice in the area, many of the speakers underlined the need to have an intellectual curiosity for the science underpinning a particular environmental law case, a willingness to engage with complex legal issues and a desire to work for a wide variety of clients. The panel encouraged anyone interested in a career in the area to sign up to the UK Environmental Law Association, and the Environmental Law Foundation.

The last word went to environmental law expert Richard Buxton, who suggested that beauty could be found in small cases and cautioned against proceeding through your career with too specific a set of objectives in mind.

For more information about the environmental law work that 1 Crown Office Row does, click here. For details about upcoming HRLA events and details of how to join click here.

Assisted suicide and the right to private life: the enduring repercussions of Nicklinson – Stevie Martin

hand-in-hand-1686811_1920In the almost three years since the Supreme Court delivered its reasons in Nicklinson (in which a majority refused to issue a declaration that the blanket ban on assisted suicide in s 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961 was incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’)), similar questions of compatibility concerning analogous bans have been considered by courts in Canada, South Africa and New Zealand. Additionally, California and Colorado have introduced legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide (taking the total to six States in the US which permit physician-assisted suicide), France has introduced legislation enabling patients to request terminal sedation, and Germany’s Federal Administrative Court this month handed down judgment confirming that the right to self-determination encompasses a right of the ‘seriously and incurably ill’ to, in ‘exceptional circumstances’, access narcotics so as to suicide.

Given news of a new challenge by Noel Conway to the compatibility of s 2(1) of the Suicide Act with Article 8 (the application for permission to review was heard by the Divisional Court yesterday with judgment reserved), it is, then, a propitious time to re-examine a particularly dubious aspect of the majority’s reasoning in Nicklinson namely, its characterisation of the declaratory power, not least given the potential for such reasoning to deleteriously affect the new challenge. Continue reading

Three Person IVF to begin in UK


A clinic in Newcastle upon Tyne has been granted the UK’s first licence to carry out a trial of “three person IVF” (Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy, or MRT). The fertility technique is intended to be used by couples who want to prevent genetic diseases being passed on to their children, due to faulty mitochondrial DNA. The process uses genetic material from the mother, father and a female donor, and replaces faulty genetic material in the mother’s DNA with the female donor’s genetic material.

There have already been a small number of three parent IVF pregnancies elsewhere in the world, resulting in reportedly healthy babies.

However the technique is not without its controversies and critics. Continue reading

Access to environmental justice

On Monday 13 March, I went along to the latest Castle Debate, held in conjunction with the Environmental Law Foundation: see here for more of the same, all free debates, and fascinating topics for anyone interested in environmental law and policy.

It, and Tom Brenan’s talk in particular, reminded me that, despite it being not long after my last Aarhus post (on private law proceedings, here), it was time to set out the latest rules governing judicial reviews, which came into operation on 28 February. The bone of contention, as ever, is the concept that challenging environmental decisions should not be prohibitively expensive.  

Until last month, the rules were relatively simple, and were designed, for better or for worse, to minimise the amounts of arguments about costs in environmental challenges. If you were an individual, £5,000 capped the costs which you would have to pay the other side if you lost.

But Government had become obsessed that environmental challengers were somehow getting a free lunch, and the rules have now been spun into something so complicated that defendants who want to burn off claimants before the claim gets heard have been given a pretty broad licence to do so. For most individuals, committing yourself to paying £5,000 if you lose is a pretty sharp deterrent. But Government does not think so. 

Continue reading

The Round Up – European Court unveils controversial new ruling

Cloths Scarf Islamic Lady Veil Women Fabric

The EU’s highest court this week held that employers are entitled to ban religious symbols in the workplace, including the Islamic headscarf.

What were the references about?

Two Muslim women, Ms Achbita (Case C‑157/15) and Ms Bougnaoui (Case C‑188/15), claimed to have been victims of discrimination after they were dismissed for refusing to comply with their employers’ stipulations that they not wear the Islamic headscarf.

Continue reading

Rape, incest and damage: but who is the real victim?

Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority v First Tier Tribunal (Social entitlement Chamber) and Y by his mother and Litigation Friend  [2017] EWCA Civ 139

The predictability of genetic disorders continues to challenge existing law. Here, the Court of Appeal had to consider whether a child born as a result of incestuous rape could claim compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS) for his congenital disabilities. These were 50% predictable as a result of the nature of his conception, as opposed to 2-3% in the general population.

The court ruled against eligibility for such claims, partly because English law does not recognise so-called claims for “wrongful life”, and partly because harm caused before birth which has consequences after birth cannot be treated as an injury sustained by a living person. But the main reason for keeping the gates closed for compensation in these circumstances is that the child concerned never had, nor could have, any existence save in a defective state. Continue reading

The Round Up: International Women’s Week

Happy international women’s week, Human Rights Blog readers! Women’s rights are human rights and human rights matter, so to help you keep fighting the good fight we’ve curated the week’s legal updates for your immediate consumption.

Let’s start with the good news…

  • The Supreme Court has heard the issue of whether a male employee in a civil partnership is entitled to the same pension for his spouse as if he were married to a woman (Walker v Innospec, UKSC 2016/0090).
  • Our friends over at Rights Info have curated some landmark cases for women’s equality, and you can read up on them here.

Continue reading