The decision of the CJEU (a.k.a ECJ) in Case C-115/09 Bund Für Umwelt on 12 May goes right to the heart of environmental challenges.
Friends of the Earth wanted to challenge the grant of planning permission for a whopping new coal-fired power station in Lünen, Germany, where these carnivallers are from. The power station is destined to produce up to 1,750 MW of heat and 750 MW of electricity (to give an idea of scale, one huge offshore wind turbine might deliver 5MW when the wind is really blowing).
The case was about the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Assessment carried out on the proposed plant, not least because there were 5 Special Areas of Conservation within 8km of the site. The local court was concerned that the domestic law (including the EIA rules in the Umwelt-Rechtsbehelfgesetz) stood in the way of FoE’s challenge, because it precluded challenges unless the impugned legislative provisions conferred “individual rights”. Continue reading →
Biowatch Trust v Registrar Genetic Resources and Others (CCT 80/08)  ZACC 14 – read judgment
Costs again, I am afraid, and how to make sure that ordinary people can litigate important cases without being stifled by a huge costs bill if they lose.
I have a certain amount of “form” for it on this blog, but it is important stuff. It is worth seeing where we have got to, and measuring that progress against the response to the same problem from an avowedly constitutional court, that of South Africa.
R (on the application of K and AC Jackson and Son) v DEFRA – read judgment.
An interesting ruling in the Administrative Court this week touches on some issues fundamental to public law – the extent to which “macro” policy (such as EC law) should trump principles of good administration; the role of factual evidence in judicial review proceedings, and the connection between public law wrongs and liability in tort.
It all started with Boxster the pedigree bull and notices issued by DEFRA which sealed his fate, or at least appeared to do so when his owners received them in April and July 2010. They were directed to arrange the slaughter of the animal as a result of a positive bovine tuberculosis (bTB) test that had been carried out by DEFRA technicians earlier in the year. The notices of intended slaughter were issued under paragraph 4 of the Tuberculosis (England) Order 2007, an Order made under powers contained in the Animal Health Act 1981. Continue reading →
Here we are, back with the access to environmental information question…From rape, bees and lettuces , a coda, involving a diversion via a new road scheme planned for Aberdeen taking in pearls and badgers, crossing the River Dee Special Area of Conservation.
An opponent of the project brought a claim against the UK government before the Aarhus Compliance Committee; findings of the Committee were adopted on 25 February 2011. The complaints ranged far and wide but the point of interest arose under an exemption to disclosure in Article 4 of the Aarhus Convention, namely that disclosure would adversely affect “(h) the environment to which the information relates, such as the breeding sites of rare species.” This has found its way into reg.12(5)(g) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004/3391, shorn, in a typically English way, of the helpful explanatory words underlined. Wouldn’t want the reader to get its meaning at a glance, would one?
On 6 April 2011, the European Commission announced that it has decided to refer the UK Government to the Court of Justice of the European Communities under Article 258 TFEU, for failing to provide affordable access to justice in environmental cases.
This blog has previouslycharted some of the twists and turns in the process of showing that environmental challenges are currently “prohibitively expensive” within the meaning of Article 9(4) of the Aarhus Convention – not the least of which was a complaint to the Aarhus Compliance Committee which was upheld by that Committee in October 2010. And the underlying concern is the state of the costs rules under which a claimant may be ordered to pay tens of thousands of pounds of costs if he loses, despite the developing case law on Protective Costs Orders designed to mitigate this. Continue reading →
A little cluster of cases has recently been decided which bear on the nature and extent to which environmental information is accessible to the public. They involve Somerset oilseed rape, pesticide residues in Dutch lettuces, and Scottish mobile phone masts. And we visit some German apiarists to consider the implications of such information being or not being provided. So hold on to your hat.
In G.M. Freeze v. DEFRA (8 March 2011), the aptly-named appellant wanted to obtain the six-digit National Grid reference for a field in Somerset. The farmer had sown some supposedly conventional oilseed rape seed in which there was, unbeknownst to him and the seed manufacturer, some genetically-modified seed at a concentration of 5 plants per 10,000. The crop thus grown then cross-pollinated with the neighbouring field of oilseed rape, contaminating the latter to 1 part per 10,000. Continue reading →
Morge (FC) (Appellant) v Hampshire County Council (Respondent) on appeal from  EWCA Civ 608- Read judgment
We cannot drive a coach-and-horses through natural habitats without a bit of soul-searching, says the Supreme Court .
The UK has conservation obligations under EU law to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and this goes beyond holding back only those developments that threaten significant disturbance to species. Detailed consideration must be given to the specific risks to the species in question. But this consideration can be left to the quangos; planning committees are not obliged to make their own enquiries.
EU law is replete with the soaring rhetoric of rights and transparency. Indeed the very first Article of the Treaty on European Union states that ‘decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen’ . But not, it appears, when the decision concerns the balance between short-term economic interests and those of the environment – or, in the Commission’s own words, the “Community’s natural heritage”.
Key facts and figures relating to central policy remain firmly under lock and key in the EU, as NGOs find when they try to get the Commission to enforce the various Directives against national governments and the EU institutions themselves.
C-115/09 Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland, Landesverband Nordrhein-Westfalen eVvBezirksregierung Arnsberg Trianel Kohlekraftwerk Lünen (intervening) – read judgment
The German system of judicial review involves a “careful and detailed” scrutiny of administrative decisions. However, admissibility criteria are such that few are able to access this system, particularly groups bringing actions alleging environmental harm.
At the centre of this case is the highly topical matter, relevant to one of the discussion threads on this site, of the trend towards a new system of environmental justice, heralded by Aarhus and the accompanying EU Directives, where national courts to are required to recognise claims brought by pressure groups alleging infringement of environmental provisions, even where there is no individual legal interest involved. The Trianel case puts into sharp focus the debate as to whether the environment should be protected not as an expression of an individual’s interest, but as a general public interest, enforceable in the courts. Continue reading →
In a plot worthy of a Hollywood film, the trial of six environmental campaigners charged with conspiring to shut down a power station has apparently collapsed after an undercover police officer switched sides.
The six were charged with conspiring to shut down the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Nottingham in 2009. The case was due to start on Monday, but was abandoned after Pc Mark Kennedy contacted the defence team to say he would be prepared to help them. The prosecution subsequently dropped their case. Mr Kennedy had been intimately involved in the green movement since 2000.
This week 18 defendants were sentenced after being found guilty of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass. Guest blogger Eleanor Cooombs of Wild Law reports.
Their crime was to attempt the shut-down of Ratcliffe-on-Soar, the UK’s third largest coal-fired power station. Yet, they argue that they are not criminals but defenders of the very future of the planet.
Their defence raised the argument of necessity which makes it excusable to commit an act which would otherwise be a crime, in order to prevent death and serious injury. A classic example is that it would be legal to break the window of a burning house in order to save the life of a child who was inside it. The defendants posited that they were acting to prevent the greater crimes of death and serious injury caused by climate change. They hoped their actions would prevent around 150 thousand tonnes of carbon emissions from being released into the atmosphere and would draw attention to the ‘failures of our present political system’ -the perceived lack of government action towards meeting its legal duty to cut emissions by 80% by 2050.
[Updated] In the spirit of our coverage of environmental activism in one form or another, here is the website strapline for the Campaign for Real Farming, which sets out to
achieve nothing less than the people’s takeover of the food supply
Some of the initiatives for that takeover were being aired at the CRF’s “fringe” farming conference which took place in Oxford this week, voicing polite but forceful protest against the high production objectives of the mainstream Farming Conference in the Examination Schools next door.
According to CRF founder Colin Tudge, if we are serious about feeding 9 bn people in a few decades’ time, the current food production system, which is designed to make money, has to be dismantled in favour of small scale, labour intensive farming, which is designed to feed people. Like any reform movement, this “agrarian renaissance” is about wresting power away from existing authorities and it has set its sights on, amongst other things, the constellation of laws and regulations governing the cultivation of food. Continue reading →
It must be something in the air. On the day the “Ratcliffe 20” were spared imprisonment for their planned attack on a power station, the Guardian published environmental lawyer Polly Higgins’ call for a new crime of ecocide and the fringe movement Campaign for Real Farming – rival to the mainstream Oxford Farming Conference – were sewing the seeds for resistance to ecologically damaging agricultural laws and practices.
The widespread perception is that the law and its custodians can no longer be trusted to safeguard the environment, or, to put it in the language of rights, that the protection that flows from current forms of rights entitlement is not only insufficient for, but positively damaging to the interests of the natural world.
November saw the publication of the report of the Redfern Inquiry into human tissue analysis in UK nuclear facilities (read the report, here).
The inquiry was the latest in a number of investigations looking at the post mortem removal, retention and disposal of human body parts by medical and other bodies, and the extent to which the families of the deceased knew of and consented to such practices. The Inquiry chairman, Michael Redfern QC, also chaired the Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital (Alder Hay) Inquiry.
Smartsource v Information Commissioner + 19 other parties  UKUT 415 (AAC) 23rd November 2010 – read judgment
Ibsen’s Enemy of the People has Dr Stockmann complaining to his Norwegian municipality about contamination of its water supply. We think that these sorts of disputes are part of a modern problem, so it is striking to find Ibsen being invoked, judicially, in this far from 19th century fight about environmental information.
The question was the less than dramatic one as to whether information about water and wastewater billing etc was environmental information, and that in turn involved deciding whether water companies and sewage undertakers were “public authorities”. Ibsen might not have found that answer too difficult to provide: what local authorities used to do in the 19th century and much of the 20th century, here, in Norway, and elsewhere, included supplying you with clean water and taking away your foul water. Continue reading →
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