Thinking about reasons again

_70626907_792ccfc-arielsiteplan2R (o.t.a. Oakley) v. South Cambridgeshire District Council [2017] EWCA Civ 71, 15 February 2017, read judgment

There is, I am glad to say, an insistence these days in the Court of Appeal that the giving of proper reasons is a necessary part of what can be expected of a planning authority when it grants permission: see my post here for a case last year.

And the current case is another good example. The CA, reversing Jay J, decided that the planning authority had acted unlawfully in not giving reasons in this case.

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Aarhus Convention update: Government still ignoring private nuisance claims

F_AarhusConventionIn 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.

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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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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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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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Supreme Court: no-win-no-fee costs regime compatible with Article 6

11769Coventry v. Lawrence [2015] UKSC 50, 22 July 2015, read judgment here

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 .

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Water companies are public authorities and must therefore disclose environmental information

water_tapFish Legal v Information Commissioner and others (Information rights practice and procedure) [2015] UKUT 52 (AAC) Charles J – read judgment

Water and sewage utility companies are “public authorities” for the purposes of the environmental information regulations, and are bound by them accordingly, the Administrative Appeals Chamber of the Upper Tribunal has ruled.

Fish Legal is the legal arm of the Angling Trust. In 2009 it asked United Utilities Water plc and Yorkshire Water Services Ltd for information relating to discharges, clean-up operations, and emergency overflow. Emily Shirley is a private individual. Again, she asked Southern Water Services Ltd for information relating to sewerage capacity for a planning proposal in her village. All three companies denied that they were under a duty to provide the information under Environmental Information Regulations. Both Fish Legal and Mrs Shirley complained to the Commissioner. In 2010 the Commissioner replied, explaining that as the companies were not public authorities for the purposes of EIR, he had no power to adjudicate the complaints. Continue reading