air pollution


Groundhog Day for air pollution breaches: Government loses again

23 February 2018 by


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth No.3) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, Garnham J, 21 February 2018, judgment here 

DEFRA has been found wanting again, in its latest attempt to address nitrogen dioxide in air. This is the third time. Yet DEFRA’s own analysis suggests that some 23,500 people die every year because of this pollutant.

I have told the story in many posts before (see list at bottom), but the UK has been non-compliant with EU Directive 2008/50 on nitrogen dioxide (et al) since 2010. The Directive requires that the period in which a state is obliged to remedy any non-compliance is to be “as short as possible”: Article 23.

We have now had 3 Air Quality Plans, the first produced in 2011 and quashed in 2015, and the second produced later in 2015, declared unlawful by Garnham J in November 2016.

The third, in this judgment, was dragged out of DEFRA in July 2017, after various attempts to delay things.  

So why was it decided to be unlawful?

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Court says – again – UK must comply with EU air pollution law

3 November 2016 by


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth No.2) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, Garnham J, 2 November 2016, judgment here

This is all about nitrogen dioxide in air, an unwanted byproduct of the internal combustion engine. Its effect on UK mortality has been estimated at 23,500 deaths per year. 

The long way of telling the story involves circling around 6 hearings, to the Supreme Court, twice, to the CJEU in 2014 (C404-13, my post here), and now to a trenchant judgment from Garnham J. 

The short version is this.

The UK has been non-compliant with EU Directive 2008/50 on nitrogen dioxide (et al) over the last 6 years. Art.23 of the Directive requires that the period in which a state is obliged to remedy any non-compliance is to be “as short as possible”.

The UK Air Quality Plan (AQP) produced in 2015 (and responding to the 2nd Supreme Court judgment here) was simply not up to ensuring that urgently required result.

In so concluding, Garnham J started with the construction of Art.23, in response to a Defra argument that it imports an element of discretion and judgment.

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Supreme Court: no excuses, UK must comply with EU air pollution law

30 April 2015 by


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, Supreme Court, 29 April 2015, judgment here

Bit of a history to this one, with 5 hearings so far. The short version is that in May 2013, the UK Supreme Court (here), faced with the UK’s non-compliance with EU Directive 2008/50 (nitrogen dioxide etc in air), decide  to refer various issues to the CJEU in Luxembourg.  In 2014, the CJEU said its piece, (C404-13 and my post here), and its views are now considered by the Supreme Court, hence this second SC judgment.

The UK has been in breach of Article 13 of the Air Quality Directive since 1 January 2010, by not complying with pollution limits in specified areas. ClientEarth, an environmental NGO, sought to enforce the Directive in the national courts.  Defra admitted breach of Article 13 and the lower courts said that, given that admission, it was for the EU Commission, if it wished, to take infraction proceedings.  The Supreme Court’s 2013 judgement disagreed; it granted a declaration that the UK was in breach of Article 13, and posed various questions about the meaning and enforcement of the Directive to the CJEU.

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Ping pong: CJEU air pollution ruling – back to the Supreme Court

19 November 2014 by


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs , CJEU, 19 November 2014 – read C404-13 

In May 2013, the UK Supreme Court (here) was sufficiently concerned about the UK’s lack of compliance  with EU legislation, Directive 2008/50 (nitrogen dioxide etc in air)  to refer various issues to the CJEU in Luxembourg.

The UK has been in breach of Article 13 the Directive since 1 January 2010, because 40 “zones and agglomerations”  had nitrogen dioxide at concentrations greater than the limit values set out in the Directive. ClientEarth, an environmental NGO, sought to enforce the Directive in the national courts.  Defra admitted breach of Article 13 and, given the admission, the first instance judge and the Court of Appeal said that there was no point in granting any declaratory relief. It was for the EU Commission, if it wished, to take infraction proceedings. And those lower courts disagreed with ClientEarth’s interpretation of the Directive, which, as we shall see, has now for the first time been upheld by the CJEU.

The Supreme Court went rather further; it granted a declaration that the UK was in breach of Article 13, and posed various questions about the meaning of the Directive to the CJEU.

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Supreme Court refers air pollution case to the EU Court

1 May 2013 by


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs  [2013] UKSC 25, Supreme Court, 1 May 2013 – read judgment

on appeal against Court of Appeal 30 May 2012 read CA judgment

The Supreme Court has taken the UK’s lack of compliance  with EU legislation, Directive 2008/50 (limiting the amount of nitrogen dioxide in air)  much more seriously than the courts below.  It has made a declaration that the UK is in breach and has referred questions of interpretation concerning the Directive and remedies to the CJEU.

The UK has been in breach of Article 13 the Directive since 1 January 2010, because at that date 40 “zones and agglomerations” had nitrogen dioxide at concentrations greater than the limit values set out in the Directive. ClientEarth, an environmental NGO, sought to enforce the Directive in the national courts.  Defra admitted breach of Article 13 and, given the admission, the Court of Appeal said that there was no point in granting any declaratory relief. It was for the EU Commission, if it wished, to take infraction proceedings.

This seemed to me like a cop-out – it is for the Commission and the courts to enforce directives, as I suggested in my previous posts (e.g. here) on this case.

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The polluted air that we breathe: Supreme Court to hear case

15 January 2013 by


NO2_PicR (Clientearth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, forthcoming Supreme Court appeal against Court of Appeal 30 May 2012 read CA judgment Updated

Back in the late spring, it seemed as if ClientEarth’s claim against Defra in respect of air pollution had run into the buffers. It had been refused by the Court of Appeal, in reasons given extempore: see my earlier post before Bailii received the judgment. Not many such refused cases make it to the Supreme Court, but this one has.

The Supreme Court lets appeals within its doors or denies them in an inscrutable way – it says yea, or, more commonly, nay, with no reasons. But the Justices thought that there was more to this case than had met the eye of the Court of Appeal. Anyway, hearing on March 7 2013, as the excellent Supreme Court website tells us. I am also told that the Court granted ClientEarth a Protective Costs Order.

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The air that we breathe: NGO’s appeal dismissed

5 June 2012 by

R (CLIENTEARTH) v SECRETARY OF STATE FOR ENVIRONMENT FOOD &  RURAL AFFAIRS, Court of Appeal 30 May 2012, on appeal from Mitting J, 13 December 2011, 

A newsflash, really, confirming that ClientEarth’s claim for a declaration and mandatory order against Defra in respect of air pollution was refused by the Court of Appeal, in line with the judgment below. And the lack of a link to the CA’s judgment because it is not available, I imagine, because the judgment was extempore, and it is being transcribed at the moment. Sadly, that does not necessarily mean it gets onto  the public access site, Bailli, in due course: the first instance decision still languishes on subscription-only sites. So all I know is that ClientEarth’s appeal did not find favour with Laws and Pitchford LJJ, sitting with Sir John Chadwick, but this, as ClientEarth explains, may not be the end of the line.

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