One of the stranger and bolder pieces of US legislation slipped into force in November 2012 – The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 – sic. This enables the US Secretary of Transportation to prohibit US airlines from complying with EU rules. Those EU rules apply to all airliners which touch down or take off in the EU, and requires them to participate in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – designed progressively to limit carbon emissions from aviation via a cap and trade mechanism.
The US Act would be odd enough in its lack of respect for the laws of other countries, had the Act’s beneficiaries (the US airlines) not sought to challenge the legality of the EU measure in the EU Courts – and failed: see my post on the judgment of the CJEU. As will be seen, the EU Court expressly rejected claims (by US airlines) that the rules had extra-territorial effect and conflicted with international aviation conventions. Hence, the scheme was lawfully applicable to US airlines – just as to those of all other countries using EU airports.
Sweetman v. An Bord Pleanala, CJEU, Advocate-General Sharpston, 22 November 2012 read opinion
In May 2012 the Habitats Directive celebrated its 20th birthday. It has been under a good deal of flak over the years, particularly from business interests both in and out of government. The reason is plain. The Directive has made member states identify important sites in their territories to the EU (with a certain amount of prodding on the way). It then tells them to keep those sites unaffected by development save in exceptional cases, where there is overriding public interest in the project, there is no alternative solution and, further, that there can be full compensation for the losses caused by the development.
So a member state cannot routinely fudge things against protected habitats in favour of whatever other public interest may be uppermost at the time – wind farms, or supermarkets or chemical works or residential newbuild on greenbelt, for instance. In all but exceptional cases (see here for my post on a proposal which was said to be exceptional), you must not adversely affect the site.
Now for this powerful system of protection in practice, thanks to a tour d’horizon (and de force) by the Advocate-General.
R (Edwards & another) v. Environment Agency, Opinion of A-G Kokott, CJEU, 18 October 2012, read opinion
In my post of yesterday, about this opinion of the Adocate-General, I set out the context in which the Supreme Court was asking for guidance from the CJEU on how to provide for costs in environmental cases, given that the UK is committed by Treaty obligations (the Aarhus Convention) and specific provisions of EU law to ensure that environmental cases are not “prohibitively expensive.”
As I put it, the first and obvious question is – prohibitive to whom? No litigation may be prohibitively expensive to Roman Abramovich. Any costs liability may deter someone on state benefits.
R (Edwards & another) v. Environment Agency, Opinion of A-G Kokott, CJEU, 18 October 2012, read opinion – updated
In environmental cases, this costs question arises in a sharp-focussed way, because the UK is committed by Treaty obligations (the Aarhus Convention) and specific provisions of EU law to ensure that environmental cases are not “prohibitively expensive.”: Article 9(4) of the Convention.
The issue arose because a domestic judicial review got to the House of Lords and the claimant lost. She was ordered to pay the costs. In due course, the matter came before the Supreme Court who asked the Court of Justice of the European Union to say what “prohibitively expensive” means in the Convention. The first and obvious question is – prohibitive to whom? No litigation may be prohibitively expensive to Mr Abramovich. Any costs liability may deter someone on state benefits.
Walton v. The Scottish Ministers, Supreme Court, 17 October 2012 read judgment
The outcome of this challenge to a road scheme near Aberdeen turned on abstruse points about environmental assessment – but the speeches from the Justices go right to the heart of two big questions in public law.
1. When can someone challenge an unlawful act – when do they have “standing” to do so?
2. If an unlawfulness is established, when can the courts exercise their discretion not to quash the unlawful act, particularly where the unlawfulness arises under EU law?
In the course of the standing issue Lord Hope talks about ospreys – hence my title, but a bit more context first. And we shall also see the views of the Court that standing and discretion are linked questions.
There has been much in the press recently about the UK Government being minded to opt out, and/or in, of EU criminal justice measures. The implications of this decision will be significant to the UK’s ability to investigate and prosecute crime. So what does it all mean?
Opting out of what?
The UK managed to negotiate the quite remarkable article 10 to protocol 36 of the Lisbon Treaty which allows for the UK to exercise a power that no other member state of the Union holds. The Lisbon Treaty finally incorporates EU criminal justice measures (which are referred to as the area of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters) into the main body of treaty law.
In order to do so, it allowed a transitional period of five years (which expires in December 2014), at the end of which, all measures adopted under the earlier treaty provisions (in what was known as the third pillar) are ‘Lisbonised.’ What this means is they become directives rather than framework decisions (and various other equivalents). The difference between the two is that directives are enforceable before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and decisions are not.
R (o.t.a Badger Trust) v. Defra, Ouseley J, 12 July 2012, read judgment, and on appeal, CA, 11 September 2012, not yet available online.
It is impossible to drive through the narrow and high-hedged lanes of Herefordshire without coming across the sad and inevitable outcome of car meeting badger. One estimate is that we may lose as many as 50,000 badgers a year this way. But this case is about whether we should kill a lot more badgers – deliberately.
For many years there has been a debate about whether, and if so, to what extent, badgers cause the spread of tuberculosis in cattle, and, if it does, what should we do about it. Recently, a decision was made by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to cull some of them. And this challenge is to the lawfulness of that decision.
At which point we immediately run up against a bit of an institutional accident. Defra, is, when you scratch it, the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food spliced together with bits of the old Department of Environment. And, a bit like the sad nocturnal collision of badger and vehicle, badgers tend to come off worse when farming interests encounter nature, particularly where, as in this context, the science appears equivocal. That sounds rather contentious, but is not meant to. Let me explain why.
Earlier today, 25 September 2012, (judgment here, in French) the Cour de Cassation in Paris ruled on the long-running question of whether Total is criminally and civily liable for the loss of the Erika on 12 December 1999 and the consequent spillage of some 20,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, affecting some 400 km of the French coastline.
The case has see-sawed so far. The Criminal Court of First Instance, and the Court of Appeal in Paris had said that Total and others were responsible, though the Court of Appeal did not make this finding in respect of the civil claims. Next, the prosecutor, Advocate-General Boccon-Gibod, expressed his view to the Cour de Cassstion that Total was not liable at all. But his view was not shared by 80 parties who appeared before the court, including the affected communes Now, the court has finally ruled in favour of those polluted, both under the criminal and civil laws, as against Total and other responsible parties – all these issues have been decided in the same decision, in a way which may seem a bit odd to UK lawyers who generally put criminal and civil law in different boxes.
The judgment is pretty weighty, some 330 pages of legal French – as is standard, this is all written as one huge sentence – broken up by multitudinous semi-colons. it is not easy to digest, to say the least, but I shall try and give the bare bones of the decision.
The Chagos Refugees Group in Mauritius v. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, First Tier Tribunal, 4 September 2012, read judgment
and Bancoult v. FCO, 25 July 2012, Stanley Burnton LJ, read judgment
The manoevres by which the Chagossians were evicted from their islands in the Indian Ocean, the late 1960s and early 1970s, so to enable the US to operate an air base on Diego Garcia, do not show the UK Foreign Office in its best light. Indeed, after a severe rebuke from the courts in 2000, the FCO accepted that the original law underlying their departure was unlawful, and agreed to investigate their possible resettlement on some of their islands.
The first of these new cases is an environmental information appeal concerning the next phase of the story – how the FCO decided that it was not feasible to resettle the islanders in 2002-2004.
This decision was taken in the modern way – backed by a feasibility study prepared by consultants supporting the stance which the FCO ultimately were to take. And this case concerns the islanders’ attempts to get documents lying behind and around the taking of this decision.
Back to basics, then, as the new academic year starts. Which courts decide human rights cases, when, and by what rules?
Well, the easy one is domestic courts. They decide whether a public authority has acted or omitted to act unlawfully under the Human Rights Act.
If the act is a decision about housing or immigration status or prisoners’ rights, the courts can quash it, and so tell the decision-maker either to decide it again or if there is only one lawful answer, tell the decision-maker what decision to take. If it was a past course of conduct (unlawful detention, intrusion into privacy, unacceptable pollution), they may award damages for human rights breaches. If the domestic law is itself unlawful, and cannot be interpreted HR-compliantly, the domestic courts can make a declaration of incompatibility under s.4 of HRA – it does the claimant no good in respect of his claim, though it throws a huge gauntlet down to Parliament to do something about the non-compliant law. And in the criminal courts, the obvious sanction is to dismiss the prosecution for some abuse of process involving the defendant’s human rights.
Amidst the root and branch opposition to socio-economic rights from some quarters, the idea that the Bill of Rights might contain an environmental right seems to have got lost in the smoke of this rather unedifying battle. The July 2012 Consultation on a Bill of Rights summarises the rival contentions well – see below.
I am ducking well away from the underlying question – should there be a Bill of Rights at all? – but support the proposition that, if there is to be such a Bill, it should contain some provision about the environment. Answers on a postcard to the Commission by 30 September, please, whether you agree or disagree with me, but in the interim, here is my penn’orth.
The Geneva-based Aarhus Compliance Committee is considering a wide-ranging pair of challenges to the planning system claiming that it does not comply with the Aarhus Convention on Environmental Matters. The Committee (ACC) heard oral submissions on 27 June 2012, and on 12 August received what should be the last of the written submissions of the parties. A decision may emerge before the end of the year, but there is so much interesting material in the papers before the Committee (for which see this and this link) which is worth having a look at.
The challenges raise a whole host of issues – the key ones are:
(i) not all planning committees allow objectors to address them orally before making a planning decision – when they do, they get a bare 3 minutes to say their piece;
(ii) an objector cannot appeal the grant of planning permission; all he can do is seek judicial review if the planning authority err in law, with the potential costs consequences which that involves; compare the developer who has a full appeal on fact and law;
(iii) an objector cannot enforce planning conditions attached to a grant; all he can do is challenge the local authority if it refuses to enforce, again on a point of law;
(iv) the UK does not comply with Article 6 of the Convention in that not all projects likely to have an effect on the environment are properly challengeable;
(v) the UK does not comply with Article 7 of the Convention in respect of public participation in all plans which may relate to the environment.
Harrow Community Support Ltd v. Secretary of State for Defence  EWHC 1921 (Admin), Haddon-Cave J, 10 July 2012, read judgment
In 776BC, the Olympics consisted of one day’s running and wrestling. A hundred years later, chariots and single horses arrived, thanks to the influence of Phaidon of Argos (a big shot in seventh-century Greece), and I dare say the civic pride which each participating Greek city-state brought to the Games was already running high. But I don’t suppose either Phaidon or Baron de Coubertin would have predicted the move which triggered this piece of litigation. The MoD decided to site a missile launcher and military personnel on the roof of a Council tower block in Leytonstone during the Olympics. Like all military hardware, it has a nice acronym, GBAD, being a Ground Based Air Defence system.
Anyway, a residents’ association formed by residents of Fred Wigg Tower, 15 storeys and containing 117 flats, decided to challenge the MoD. As their petition put it, “We, the undersigned residents of FWT, Montague Road, Leytonstone E11 3 EP, do not want explosive missile systems placed on the roof of our home”. Nor, I suppose, do any of us, but some of us may want someone else to have missile launchers on their roofs.
Herrmann v Germany (Application no. 9300/07) 26 June 2012 – read judgment
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the obligation of a landowner to allow hunting on his property violated his Convention rights. Although the majority based their conclusion on his right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions, the partially concurring and dissenting opinions and the judgment as a whole provide an interesting insight into the way freedom of conscience challenges are to be approached in a secular society where religion holds less sway than individual ethical positions on certain issues.
In 2002 the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany ruled that the granting of exceptional authorisation for the slaughter of animals without previous stunning, on religious grounds, did not breach the German Basic Law Schächt-Entscheidung (BVerfGE 99, 1, 15 January 2002). The social uproar that followed the ruling led to the German constitutional legislature taking a significant step aimed at protecting animal welfare with the 2002 constitutional reform, by including Article 20a in the Basic Law:
“Mindful also of its responsibility toward future generations, the State shall protect the natural foundations of life and animals through legislation…” Continue reading →
On the EU watch again, I am afraid. We have looked at getting documents out of the EU, in the context of the IFAW case about the German Chancellor’s letter, via Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 (the EU Access to Information Regulation). And also on how to seek annulment of EU laws and decisions from the EU courts (Inuits and all that). Both apply to all EU issues. We have mused on what might happen if the EU institutions sign up to the ECHR, so that complaints about them can go to the Strasbourg Court.
Now we return to environmental cases, where there is a specific measure, EU Aarhus Regulation 1367/2006, which applies the Aarhus Convention to EU institutions. We have seen how in a specific context this Regulation must be interpreted in the light of the meaning of the Convention: my post on the pesticides and air quality challenges, where the General Court of the EU effectively ignored the words “of individual scope” in the Regulation to make the Regulation comply with the Convention. But I am now going to have a look at this measure more generally. Remember we are not here dealing with getting environmental information out of member states; that question is dealt with via a separate EU Directive (2003/4), transposed in the UK by the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
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