Access to justice


What can an Environmental Tribunal do?

6 June 2011 by

Access to environmental justice is a subject close to the hearts of various contributors to this blog, as one can see from the posts listed below. But not only to them – Sullivan LJ was the chairman of the working group that in 2008 wrote Ensuring Access to Environmental Justice in England and Wales”. Jackson LJ returned to the issue in his report on the costs of civil litigation. In December last year the Supreme Court referred to the Court of Justice of the EU, Edwards, a case about the English costs regime, and whether it complies with the Aarhus convention. Finally, in April 2011 the European Commission said it was going to refer the UK to the CJEU for failing to comply with the costs element of the Convention.

So the UKELA seminar on “Developing the new Environmental Tribunal” hosted by Simmons & Simmons on 16th May 2011, was timely, to say the least, particularly as the speakers included Lord Justice Sullivan, and Lord Justice Carnwath the senior president of the Tribunals, and Professor Richard Macrory Q.C., author of a new report on the Environment Tribunal.

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No legal aid cuts to avoid bad days in court

18 May 2011 by

R (on the application of Evans) v The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice [2011] EWHC 1146 (Admin) – Read judgment

The High Court has found that the Ministry of Justice, when making a decision to cease the state’s funding of judicial review challenges on purely public interest grounds (apart from one exception), took into account the fact that to do so would reduce the number of decisions being made which were not in the government’s interests. Unsurprisingly, the Court to concluded that the decision was unlawful and should be quashed.

The Applicant applied for judicial review of a decision by the Respondent to amend the Legal Services Commission (LSC) Funding Code, which funds litigation for those who meet certain criteria. The effect of the amendments, which were introduced in April 2010, was to prevent public funding by the LSC for judicial review proceedings (challenging decisions of public bodies) which were pure public interest challenges. That is, where the Applicant stood to gain nothing from the litigation and was bringing it solely to promote a particular public interest. The one exception was in environmental cases.

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Justice’s hidden backbone – a tribute to BAILII

18 November 2010 by

By all accounts, it has been a gloomy year for access to justice. The legal aid budget is to be reduced by £350m and state assistance has effectively disappeared in non-criminal cases. The overall justice budget, which is already low by international standards, is to be cut by a further 23%. But believe it or not, there may be reasons to be cheerful.

In the virtual world, legal blogs are becoming an established voice in the UK legal community and the flourishing blogosphere has given the public a lively, accessible and most importantly free new way of engaging with the law. With legal aid becoming scarcer and Citizens Advice Bureaus losing their funding, free information services such can be the last resort for those who seek legal help without having to pay for a lawyer.

But none of these services would exist without their hidden backbone: BAILII. To that end, when Legal Week published its excellent review of legal blogging  last month, the failure to mention BAILII caused a min-revolution from a gaggle of legal bloggers in the comments section.

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New legislation website launched, updated to 2002

2 August 2010 by

The government has launched a sparkly looking but as yet scantily featured new legislation website, legislation.gov.uk, to replace the two websites which previously did the same job, OPSI and the Statute Law Database.

One notable absence from the National Archives-run site is any guarantee that the statutes will be up to date after 2002. This was also a limitation of its predecessors, which is why lawyers generally avoided them for fear of unknowingly using an out-of-date statute. “About half” of the legislation is now up to date, according to the frequently asked questions section. This is surprising given the amount of money which is spent on Government IT; the new website asking what laws people want scrapped will apparently alone cost £20,000.

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European Commission warns the UK about unfair cost of challenging environmental decisions

28 March 2010 by

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.”

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