When the court should look over the shoulder of a decision-maker


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth No.2) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, Garnham J,
21 November 2016, transcript awaited

A quick follow-up ruling to the judgment of 2 November (here) in which the UK’s air pollution plans under EU and domestic laws were found wanting by the Administrative Court. The pollutant was nitrogen dioxide – a major product of vehicle exhaust fumes. 

This Monday’s hearing was to decide precisely what the Government should be ordered to do in respect of the breach. The judgment was extempore, but the short reports available (e.g. here) suggest that the ruling is of some interest. 

The parties had already agreed that it was unnecessary  to quash the existing plan, which could remain in place until the following year whilst DEFRA prepared a new plan – presumably on the basis that a defective plan was better than no plan at all.

This week’s disputed issues related to timing for a new plan and whether and how the court could or should keep a watchful eye on Governmental progress.

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Court says – again – UK must comply with EU air pollution law


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth No.2) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, Garnham J, 2 November 2016, judgment here

This is all about nitrogen dioxide in air, an unwanted byproduct of the internal combustion engine. Its effect on UK mortality has been estimated at 23,500 deaths per year. 

The long way of telling the story involves circling around 6 hearings, to the Supreme Court, twice, to the CJEU in 2014 (C404-13, my post here), and now to a trenchant judgment from Garnham J. 

The short version is this.

The UK has been non-compliant with EU Directive 2008/50 on nitrogen dioxide (et al) over the last 6 years. Art.23 of the Directive requires that the period in which a state is obliged to remedy any non-compliance is to be “as short as possible”.

The UK Air Quality Plan (AQP) produced in 2015 (and responding to the 2nd Supreme Court judgment here) was simply not up to ensuring that urgently required result.

In so concluding, Garnham J started with the construction of Art.23, in response to a Defra argument that it imports an element of discretion and judgment.

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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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