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.’
R (ClientEarth No.3) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Garnham J, 21 February 2018, judgment here
DEFRA has been found wanting again, in its latest attempt to address nitrogen dioxide in air. This is the third time. Yet DEFRA’s own analysis suggests that some 23,500 people die every year because of this pollutant.
I have told the story in many posts before (see list at bottom), but the UK has been non-compliant with EU Directive 2008/50 on nitrogen dioxide (et al) since 2010. The Directive requires that the period in which a state is obliged to remedy any non-compliance is to be “as short as possible”: Article 23.
We have now had 3 Air Quality Plans, the first produced in 2011 and quashed in 2015, and the second produced later in 2015, declared unlawful by Garnham J in November 2016.
The third, in this judgment, was dragged out of DEFRA in July 2017, after various attempts to delay things.
Review of Fixed Recoverable Costs: Supplemental Report, 31 July 2017 – here
Jackson LJ is still toiling away at costs issues some 8 years after his main report. The original report changed the whole way in which the civil courts go about working how much, if anything, is due from one side to another at the end of a case – budgets being one key element. The main part of this new report concerns extending fixed costs further.
This post is about something different, judicial review. Rather different factors may come into play when you are challenging public authorities. You may have a direct financial or other interest in the outcome, or you may just think that the law needs properly enforcing against those authorities. It does not follow that the winner should recover costs on the same rules as elsewhere in the civil system. And Jackson LJ returns to the question of costs in this context in Chapter 10 of his report.
Since 2013, things have been different in the area of environmental judicial reviews. With substantial prods from the EU, things are now better off for claimants, though recent reforms have sought to put further obstacles in the way of claimants: see my post here.
So it is refreshing to read something from a very senior judge which recognises the true value of judicial review as a whole and why the costs rules need adjusting in this area for the benefit of claimants.
R (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Garnham J, 27 April 2017, judgment here
Last November (here) the judge decided that the UK’s air pollution plans under EU and domestic laws were not good enough. The case has a long, and unedifying back-story of Government not doing what the law says it should do – see the depressing list of posts at the bottom of this post.
The pollutant was nitrogen dioxide, a product of vehicle exhaust fumes. And as the judge reminded us in this latest instalment, the Department for Transport’s own evidence suggests that 64 people are dying everyday as a result of this pollutant.
The particular issue might seem legally unpromising. Government wanted to delay the publication of its latest consultation proposal from 24 April 2017 (the date ordered by the judge last November) until after the Council elections on 4 May, and, then, once the general election had been called, until after 8 June 2017. It accepted that it had its report drafted, but did not want to release it.
But the only justification for the delay was Purdah.
In November 2016, the Government responded in rather disappointing terms (here) to a consultation about amending its costs rules in civil cases to reflect the requirements of the Aarhus Convention.
Article 9 of this Convention 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“. Aarhus starters may want to have a look at my bluffers guide to Aarhus – here.
First, the limited bit of good news in the governmental response.
Trump’s inauguration seems not a bad moment to be having a look at the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs, actual or potential) which are swirling around at the moment, and their likely reception in the changed world which we face.
First on the list, our own tried, tested, and found electorally wanting, EU Treaties. They are FTAs, but with lots of knobs on – free movement of people, of establishment, level playing fields about employment rights, the environment and consumer protection, to name but a few.
The first thing to say is that FTAs, wherever they are, don’t come all that unencumbered these days. Continue reading →
R (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.
R (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.
Many 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 ofArticle 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.
Bank Mellat v HM Treasury  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.
R (o.t.a. Dilner) v. Sheffield City Council  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 McMornhere 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.
R (o.t.a Seiont, Gwyfrai and Llyfni Anglers Society) v. Natural Resources Wales  EWHC 3578, Hickinbottom J, 17 December 2015, read judgmentand
Chetwynd v. Tunmore  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.
McMorn (R, on the application of) v Natural England 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 domesticchallenge on grounds of irrationality. I deal with that point first.
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 .
Bank Mellat v HM Treasury  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 weekhere. 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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