The Environmental Law Foundation

elf_mainMany readers will know that I have banged on, long and hard, via this blog about the constant problem we have in the UK trying to ensure that the cost of planning and environmental litigation is not prohibitively expensive for ordinary people. The UK system has been held repeatedly to be in breach of Article 9 of the Aarhus Convention, 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”. For Aarhus beginners, have a look at my bluffers guide – here 

So I was delighted to be asked recently to chair the Environmental Law Foundation whose main role is to help out people, for free, with their planning and environmental problems. ELF is going to have its 25th birthday next year, and this short post is an unashamed plug for the job that it does – together with an invitation to contact it (see below) if you have a problem you think they may be able to help with, or if you want to volunteer to assist on someone else’s problem.

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Bank Mellat’s $4bn claim: CA rules out one element, but the rest to play for

bank_MellatBank Mellat v HM Treasury [2016] EWCA Civ 452 1258, Court of Appeal, 10 May 2016: read judgment

Bank Mellat’s challenge to the Treasury’s direction under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008  has been before the courts on a number of occasions. In 2009, the Treasury had concluded that the Bank had connections with Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme. In 2013, the Supreme Court quashed the direction, which had stopped any institution in London from dealing with the Bank.

The Bank claims for damages caused by the unlawful direction. The claim is under the Human Rights Act via A1P1 of the ECHR, (the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions).

Preliminary issues on damages came before Flaux J (judgment here, my post here). The Treasury appealed, with, as we shall see, some measure of success.

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Latest twist on standard of review in Aarhus cases

_88207153_treeR (o.t.a. Dilner) v. Sheffield City Council [2016] EWHC 945 (Admin), Gilbart J, 27 April 2016, read judgment

A quick note on the latest Aarhus Convention point to come before the domestic courts.

In November 2015, I posted on the decision by Ouseley J in McMorn here that a gamekeeper’s challenge fell within the scope of Aarhus, and that as a result there should be a more intense scrutiny of the underlying merits of the claim than would typically be allowed under domestic public law principles.

The current case bears on the standard of review point. Mr Dilner and other environmental campaigners challenged the tree-felling policies of Sheffield City Council, and one of his arguments was that tree-felling required an environmental assessment under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. This environmental claim fell within the protections conferred by the Aarhus Convention, and hence, it was said, required such an intense scrutiny. Mr Dilner relied upon Ouseley J’s reasoning.

Gilbart J robustly rejected the argument, and did not follow Ouseley J’s ruling.

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Watery rights and wrongs – and causation too

TA-ArcticCharr-002R (o.t.a Seiont, Gwyfrai and Llyfni Anglers Society) v. Natural Resources Wales [2015] EWHC 3578, Hickinbottom J, 17 December 2015, read judgment and

Chetwynd v. Tunmore [2016] EWHC 156 (QB), HHJ Reddihough, sitting as a judge of the High Court, 4 February 2016, read judgment

This is a wintry double-bill on two recently decided cases about water quality, quantity, fish – and causation.

In the first, Seiont, Snowdonian anglers complained that the Welsh water regulator (Natural Resources Wales or NRW)  had misunderstood what was required by the Environmental Liability Directive in respect of Llyn Padarn, a freshwater lake the home of the Arctic charr, Salvelinus alpinus.  So they sought judicial review of NRW’s decision.

The main legal question was – did environmental damage within the Directive include slowing down recovery from previous damage, as the anglers argued, or was it confined to deterioration from an existing state (as the regulator had decided)?

Hickinbottom J held the latter, and the claim was dismissed.

In the second case, the claimant owners of fishing lakes in Norfolk said that their neighbours, in constructing rival lakes (without planning permission) had caused water levels to fall, and hence loss of fish and consequent income. Had that been established, the claimants would have had a claim for breach of statutory duty under section 48A Water Resources Act 1991. Such a claim, the judge held, would have been a strict liability one, in which foreseeability of damage played no part.

But the claimants lost on the facts, not before the judge had given an interesting analysis of the law of causation in this field.

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Gamekeeper’s environmental Aarhus claim to shoot buzzards?

Buteo_buteo_-Netherlands-8McMorn (R, on the application of) v Natural England [2015] EWHC 3297 (Admin) – read judgment

An interesting point arose in this judicial review (for which see Rosalind English’s post here). Could the claimant could get the benefit of an order that any costs he might have had to pay were capped at £5,000? The original judge, Thirlwall J, when granting permission, had refused this costs protection. Ouseley J granted it, though, because the claimant won, the order is academic (short of a successful appeal by the defendant). 

This kind of costs protection only applies when the claim is an environmental claim covered by the Aarhus Convention: see a whole list of posts at the end of this one, including the true bluffer’s guide here. The UK has been dragged kicking and screaming into compliance with the Aarhus costs requirements, that environmental challenges not be “prohibitively expensive”, thanks to a combination of the Convention’s own enforcement body and the EU Court in Luxembourg.

But the domestic courts have had some difficulty in deciding what is or is not comes within an environmental challenge.

As we will see, the judge also thought that an Aarhus claim requires a more intensive review of the substantive decision than might have been applied had the claim been a typical domestic challenge on grounds of irrationality. I deal with that point first.

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Supreme Court: no-win-no-fee costs regime compatible with Article 6

11769Coventry v. Lawrence [2015] UKSC 50, 22 July 2015, read judgment here

The pre-April 2013 Conditional Fee Agreement system, under which claimants could recover uplifts on their costs and their insurance premiums from defendants, has survived – just. It received a sustained challenge from defendants to the effect that such a system was in breach of their Article 6 rights to a fair trial.

In a seven-justice court there was a strongly-worded dissent of two, and two other justices found the case “awkward.”

The decision arises out of the noisy speedway case about which I posted in March 2014 – here. The speedway business ended up being ordered to pay £640,000 by way of costs after the trial. On an initial hearing (my post here), the Supreme Court was so disturbed by this that they ordered a further hearing to decide whether this was compatible with Article 6 .

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Bank Mellat’s $4bn A1P1 claim gathers pace

bank_MellatBank Mellat v HM Treasury [2015] EWHC 1258 (Comm), Flaux J, 6 May 2015, read judgment

Two recent judgments underscoring the potential high cost of the UK getting it wrong in its dealing with businesses and hence being liable to pay damages under the Human Rights Act for breach of its A1P1 obligations. Regular readers will know that A1P1 is the ECHR right to peaceful enjoyment of property.

The first case was the photovoltaics case of Breyer, all about reducing renewables subsidies unfairly: see my post of last week here. The second, this case, involves a much more direct form of impact, namely the Treasury’s direction under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 that no-one else should have any commercial dealings with Bank Mellat, because, the Treasury said, the Bank had connections with Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme. 

Bank Mellat’s challenge got to the Supreme Court: see judgment and my post. The Court (a damn’d close run thing – 5:4) concluded that the direction was arbitrary and irrational and procedurally unfair. The nub of the complaint is that there were other Iranian banks against whom this very draconian measure was not taken, and that there was nothing specific about the Bank which made it more implicated than the rest of the banking system.

The Supreme Court remitted the case for trial as to HRA damages.

The current judgment of Flaux J is the first stage in that trial process. As we will see, Bank Mellat are distinct winners at this stage.

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