On Friday 6th April, Public Interest Environmental Law (PIEL) UK hosted their 12th annual conference. The student-led association, which was founded in 2007, is inspired by the US conference of the same name which has attracted ever-growing numbers of delegates since it began in 1983.
This year’s conference boasted three panels packed with academics and practitioners, and a keynote address from Richard Macrory CBE. In light of the movement’s snowballing strength, it seemed apposite that this year’s conference be themed ‘Environmental Litigation: Has the Green Revolution Reached the Courts?’
In fact, speakers ranged beyond this brief, partly due to recognising that it would take the coalescence of strategic litigation with procedural reform and public interest to truly ignite the ‘green revolution.’
Public Interest Environmental Litigation and the European Court of Human Rights: No love at first sight, by Riccardo Pavoni – read article
Thanks to this link on the ECHR blog, a fascinating account of the twists and turns of Strasbourg environmental case law from Professor Pavoni, of the University of Siena. It is 30 closely-argued pages, so I shall try and give a flavour of the debates Pavoni covers, as well as chucking in my own penn’orth.
The starting point, as I see it, is that public interest environmental litigation is a square peg in the round hole of Strasbourg case law. The Convention and the case law are concerned with victims of human rights abuses. Environmental degradation affects everyone, but not necessarily in a way which makes them a a Strasbourg victim. Take loss of biodiversity, say the decline in UK songbirds, or the peace of a remote moorland affected by 150m high wind turbines. Who is the potential victim in those cases when judged by human rights? Pavoni argues that if the Strasbourg Court were to assert jurisdiction over environmental cases as a common good, alongside adverse impacts on private victims, this would not result in a major overhaul of the Court’s current principles – not too much expansion of the hole needed to fit the square peg in snugly. How does he reach that position?
Queen Mary University of London v the Information Commissioner (1) and Robert Courtney (2) First Tier Tribunal EA/2012/0229 read judgment
Rosalind English has recently posted here on incomplete academic work in the climate change field. This appeal is closely related, in that it concerns a university’s claim to hold on to data from a publicly-funded randomised controlled trial pending peer-reviewed publication.
Between 2005 and 2010 Queen Mary ran a trial into the efficacy and safety of the current treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalopathy, namely Adaptive Pacing Therapy , Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Graded Exercise Therapy. £5m of public money was spent, and the perceived benefits (and some of the detriments) were written up into a major article published in the Lancet in March 2011. The upshot, said this article, was that CBT and GET could be safely added to current medical care with a moderate improvement in outcomes. This recommendation has already fed into an interim review of the NICE guidelines on CFS/ME.
However, the data on deterioration within the trial had not been fully published. You could not see how many patients deteriorated in response to each therapy, just the net deterioration over the whole cohort. Our appellant, Mr Courtney, is evidently a bit sceptical about the results of this trial. As he pointed out, the deterioration data had a 20 point difference, whereas the improvement had only to be modest – an 8 point difference. And, he said, how can patients sensibly form a view on treatment without knowing how much deterioration that specific treatment might cause?
Stephen McIntyre v Information Commissioner (Environmental Information Regulations 2004)  UKFTT 156 (17 May 2013) – read judgment and  UKFTT 51 (7 May 2013) read judgment
These are the latest in a series of freedom of information requests for disclosure of material from the UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU). These requests arose following the ‘climategate’ affair where hacked university emails suggested that individuals within CRU might have attempted to abuse the process of peer review to prevent publication of opposing research papers and evidence. Hence the sensitivity of the data to both requester and CRU, and the passions engendered on these appeals.
Both cases turned on whether disclosure could be denied on the basis of the public interest exception to the default rule that information should be disclosed, in other words the chilling effect on sharing ideas and unpublished research, and the potential distortion of public debate by the disclosure of incomplete material. Continue reading →
Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture v. Scottish Ministers, 26 November 2012 read decision
An interesting and robust decision from the Scottish Information Commissioner. An NGO (just look at the tin) asked the Scottish Ministers for information about seal culling licensed by them. The Scottish Ministers did not provide all the information sought; they said which companies had received the licences, and the total number of seals killed, but did not say who killed how many seals where – thus, doubtless, stymieing any focussed debate and engagement by the NGO on the justification for the killings. The industry’s position appears to be that such shootings only took place against occasional rogue seals.
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