In the UK there are at present no rights expressly cast in terms applicable to climate change, nor have our traditional human rights been extensively interpreted as covering climate change consequences. As David Hart QC identifies in his blog, Is climate change a human rights issue?, human rights principles, to be useful for climate change litigators, have to have some democratic backing somewhere. So is there any hope, in the near future at least, of formally or even informally establishing a link between climate change and human rights in the UK? Is human rights based climate change litigation as ‘radical’ as David Hart suggests?
Consider, for example, the situation where the avoidance of further climate change damage was possible through adequate mitigation and/or adaptation, but where adaptation measures were not implemented due to financial or technical constraints. Leaving aside the issue of whether the State would be liable for a moment, could existing human rights be engaged in this situation?
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.
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 →
“It is well known that in United Kingdom court proceedings are not cheap” – a masterly understatement opening this opinion from our pictured AG to the CJEU about whether the UK system on legal costs complies with the obligation now in two EU Directives about environmental assessment and pollution control. The AG thinks that our way of doing costs is not up to scratch – with the origin of this obligation to be found in the UN-ECE Aarhus Convention to which the EU has subscribed (albeit abstemiously when the EU comes to its own affairs – funny that).
Bit of context – the EU has been warning the UK about costs for some years, with formal warnings going back to 2007 – and the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee has been doing likewise from Geneva. But the EU courts are more scary – all the ACCC can do is wrap the odd knuckle. And on this topic, we have one individual case which has been to the CJEU (Edwards, where the UK does not look in good shape – see my post), and now this case saying that the UK has a systemic problem with excessive costs.
But one thing we must remember. The law according to the AG looks at the law before the UK had a go at sorting the problem out – see my post, as above. on the new UK regime. There is some important stuff about how the old system did not comply, which will have implications for the new rules.
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.
R (o.t.a Rob Evans) v. Attorney-General, Information Commissioner Interested Party, 9 July 2013 – read judgment
As we all know, the Prince of Wales has his own opinions. And he has shared those opinions with various government departments. Our claimant, a Guardian journalist, thought it would be interesting and important for the rest of us to see those opinions. So he made a request under the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations to see these documents.
No joy, says the Administrative Court. Yes, a tribunal had ordered production of the letters, but that order had been overridden by the Attorney-General. What, says anybody used to the idea that courts do their bit, and the government does its bit – that’s unfair, government cannot override what the courts say.
The complication, as we shall see, is that the override is built into FOIA.
Belgium and its airports seem to have been skirmishing with the European Union Courts for some time now. First, in 2008, the ECJ in Abraham decided that a major and well-established expansion of Liege-Bierset airport required Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), contrary to the contentions of the airport and its operators. Our case, Boxus, concerns a raft of challenges to consents for that airport expansion, and to similar projects affecting Charleroi airport and railways. These challenges ended up in front of the Court of Justice of the European Union on more EIA issues. This time, it appears that the Walloon Region of Belgium had become impatient with continuing court challenges – so it resorted to Parliamentary Decree, in which Parliament “ratified” the various planning consents.
Hey, presto, the Region thought, any defects in previous procedures are solved, and the court proceedings will fall away – or will they? Enter, on a white charger, the Aarhus Convention to the aid of the challengers.
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.
You live very close to an airport. The airport expands without carrying out an Environmental Impact Assessment as required by the EIADirective. You want to sue the state for loss in value of your property. Can you claim? This is the strikingly simple question the subject of this judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU. And on the day the HS2 ruling came out (post to follow shortly, but compensation consultation unlawful) it is an interesting question to look at.
Commission v. UK, judgment of CJEU, 13 February 2014 – read judgment – UPDATED
Litigation costs are troublesome, but they are particularly difficult in environmental cases where the claimant is not necessarily pursuing his private interests. This case is the result of a long-running and successful campaign by NGOs to persuade the EU Commission to investigate UK environmental legal costs. The main finding may not bother the UK too much, because wisely it saw this one coming and changed costs rules in environmental public law cases. A subsidiary ruling about cross-undertakings has also been more recently included in a rule change.
All of this comes from Article 9 of the Aarhus Convention (to which the EU has subscribed) 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”. Continue reading →
The European Commission has sent an official warning letter to the UK regarding the prohibitive expense of challenging the legality of environmental decisions.
The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention) was signed by the United Kingdom in 1998, and came into force in October 2001. It was ratified by the United Kingdom in February 2005, at the same time as its ratification by the European Community. Article 9(4) of the Convention provides that access to environmental justice must be fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive.
The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) does not provide for a specific human right to a clean environment, nor a right to environmental justice, although Article 2 (right to life), Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 8 (respect for family and private life) do provide some scope for environmental protection, Conventions such as Aarhus are important in supporting these rights in an environmental context, particularly where the ECHR may provide inadequate protection. This connection is recognised in the preamble to the Aarhus Convention which identifies that, “the adequate protection of the environment is essential for human well-being and the enjoyment of basic human rights, including the right to life itself.”
Our guest post from Frances Aldson last week drew many and varied comments from our readers on this blog and elsewhere, including those at each end of a spectrum ranging from the enthusiastic to the choleric.
This follow-up post is designed for those who have no strong views but who want to muse on the implications of the proposal which is due to be raised, via one route or another, with the UN, either this year or next.
Ecocide is the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished. Continue reading →
The reverse suffered by the claimants in the noisy motor racing case case before the Court of Appeal last month was something of a body blow to common lawyers and environmentalists. So this latest development in nuisance litigation should be welcome news.
As David Hart’s report suggests, the Court of Appeal pulls no punches in its critique of the High Court judgment which dismissed the claims of 152 households on the basis that a landfill operator had abided by the terms of its permit. Reasserting the private law rights of individuals in nuisance actions, Carnwath LJ observes that this case has been
a sad illustration of what can happen when apparently unlimited resources, financial and intellectual, are thrown at an apparently simple dispute such as one about nuisance by escaping smells. The fundamental principles of law were settled by the end of the 19th century and have remained resilient and effective since then.
The common law, he notes, is best when it is simple. And in this judgement he returns nuisance to the simple statement of reciprocity and neighbourliness where it belongs.
There are a few propositions – not many – in Carnwath LJ’s judgment which will serve as a clear, short checklist for the viability of a nuisance action. 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.
R (o.t.a Friends of the Earth et al) v. Heathrow Airport Ltd  UKSC 52 – read judgment
In February 2020, the Court of Appeal decided that the Government policy on airport expansion at Heathrow was unlawful on climate change grounds. The Supreme Court has now reversed this decision.
The policy decision under challenge was an Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS). An NPS sets the fundamental framework within which further planning decisions will be taken. So, in traditional terms, it is not a planning permission; that would come later, via, in this case, the mechanism of a Development Consent Order (DCO), which examines the precise scheme that is proposed. The ANPS (like any NPS) narrows the debate at the DCO stage. Objectors cannot say, for example, that the increase in capacity could better be achieved at Gatwick. Government policy has already decided it shouldn’t be.
The ANPS was made in 2018 by the Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling), after many years of commissions and debates about airport expansion.
The other major policy player in this litigation was the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This was concluded in December 2015, and was ratified by the UK on 17 November 2016. The Paris Agreement commits parties to restrict temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
The UK’s domestic climate change legislation derives from the Climate Change Act 2008. The Planning Act 2008 (setting out the NPS system) required government in a given NPS (a) to explain how it takes account of its policy on climate change (s.5(8)) and (b) to exercise its NPS functions with regard to the desirability of mitigating and adapting to climate change (s.10).
The challenges debated in the Supreme Court revolved around (1) these two sections of the PA 2008, (2) a debate about the impact of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive (2011/92/EU), and (3) claims that the SoS has failed to take into account long-term (post-2050) and non-CO2 emissions.
One curious element of this appeal is that it was Hamlet without the Prince. After seeking to defend the case in the CA, the SoS did not appear in the SC, where Heathrow did all the running. Whether this non-appearance by the SoS was anything to do with the Honourable Member for Hillingdon’s undertaking (Boris Johnson MP) some years ago to lie in front of the bulldozers before the third runway was laid is of course unknowable. But as we shall see, this did not stop Heathrow’s arguments winning the day. So, possibly, central government’s policy objective achieved without political risk.
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