Good news from the crisis front, although I’m afraid not the one we’re all thinking of: the government’s Agriculture Bill, which sets out its major post-Brexit agricultural policy, has recently passed committee stage and will soon (coronavirus permitting) be presented to the House of Lords. It shows ambition from the government to develop a post-Brexit agriculture policy with laudable commitments to harnessing the power of farmers to help address the climate crisis, and helps to address issues such as food security. Along with the Environment Bill, discussed here, it constitutes some of the core legislation aimed at achieving the government’s Net Zero by 2050 goal.
The government’s haunting refrain, since their 2018 ‘Health and Harmony’ consultation on post-Brexit agricultural policy, has been “public money for public goods”. The bill puts this into practice by giving the secretary of state power to dismantle the subsidy schemes of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and replace it with the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). Under this scheme, farmers will be awarded for specific activities with ‘public goods’: good practices that further environmental goals in areas such as biodiversity and soil health that the market does not sufficiently incentivise.
If your domestic mutt makes friends with a wolf, and is prepared to eat and play with this visitor from the wild in your garden, does that deprive said wolf of the protection of the EU rules on the protection of listed species? AG Kokott at the European Court of Justice has just handed down her opinion on this tricky question of conservation referred to the Court.
The Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora calls for the introduction of a system of strict protection for species, such as the wolf (Canis lupus), which are listed in Annex IV(a) thereto. However, must that system of protection also be applied in the case where a wolf plays with dogs in a village? That is the question that has been put to the Court in these proceedings. As the AG continues
Even in its specific form, that question may be of greater practical importance than one might think. The answer to it will be decisive above all, however, in determining whether the substantively extensive protection of species provided for in the Habitats Directive is primarily relevant to natural and semi-natural areas, that is to say, in particular, to activities such as agriculture, forestry and hunting, or whether it is to be taken into account without restriction in all human activities, such as the operation of roads.
You only have to think about this for a few seconds before realising the far reaching implications of the latter interpretation.
R (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.
Dover District Council v. CPRE Kent  UKSC 79, 6 December 2016, read judgment
The Supreme Court has just confirmed that this local authority should have given reasons if it wished to grant permission against the advice of its own planning officers for a controversial development to the west of Dover.
The interest is in the breadth of the decision – how far does it extend?
... and pests are misplaced animals. We are all too familiar with the stories of mayhem caused by urban foxes released into the countryside, and the collapse in property value where Japanese knotweed is found to have invaded. The perpetrators of such damage are rarely identified and brought to account. So it is with a level of glee that the prosecution of two “Buddhist activists” has been reported in the media after they released nearly a thousand alien crustaceans off the coast of Brighton.
“Banker” Ni Li and “estate agent” Zhixong Li bought the live American lobsters and Dungeness crabs from a London fish merchant, hired three boats from Brighton Marina and cast the animals adrift as part of a religious ceremony, fangsheng, which is understood to be the cause of many ecosystem disruptions in Asia.
This short story is so replete with topical issues it is hard to know where to begin.
Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy v. Information Commissioner and Henney  EWCA Civ 844 , 29 June 2017 – read judgment
As many will know, there are two different systems of freedom of information, the first and better known, the Freedom for Information Act 2000, and the second, the Environmental Information Regulations 2009. From the perspective of the inquirer (Mr Henney, here), the EIRs are the more favourable, and it was the differences between the systems which gave rise to this long-running dispute to do with energy Smart Meters.
The appeal went in favour of Mr Henney, and the Information Commissioner who had ruled in his favour. But the ultimate case is not resolved, as I shall explain.
R (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.
Infinis Energy Holdings Ltd v HM Treasury and Anor  EWCA Civ 1030 – read judgment
In July 2015 the government announced that it was removing a subsidy for renewable energy. Its decision in fact was to take away the exemption that renewable source electricity enjoyed from a tax known as the climate change levy. We have covered previous episodes in the renewables saga on the UKHRB in various posts.
The appellant, the largest landfill gas operator in the UK and one of the leading onshore wind generators, challenged the government’s removal of the subsidy on the basis of the EU law principles of foreseeability, legal certainty, the protection of legitimate expectations or proportionality. At first instance the judge upheld the Secretary of State’s decision, and the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal against this finding.
Legal and Factual Background
The subsidy took the form of an exemption for renewable source electricity (RSE) such as that provided by the appellant’s company, from the climate change levy (CCL). (The judgment is replete with these acronyms so it’s worth getting to grips with them before reading.)
Jay J, the judge at first instance, summarised the government’s reasons for removing the exemption. The government wanted to move away from a system of indirect support to one of direct support, the latter being more efficient and cost-effective. The exemption, it was said, benefited foreign generators and there were incentives and support in place that would continue to support domestic generators of renewable energy. The government had considered the impact of this decision on companies such as Infinis, but it was decided that it was outweighed by the public interest. Continue reading →
R (o.t.a Soma Oil & Gas) v. Director of the Serious Fraud Office  EWHC 2471 (Admin) 12 October 2016 – read judgment
Soma are investing heavily ($40m spent on seismic work) in looking at oil and gas extraction in Somalia, so it was a bit of a set-back, to say the least, when their “capacity-building” efforts – funding infrastructure in the relevant Ministry – were alleged to fall under the Bribery Act 2010, and this led to a fraud investigation by the UK SFO. The investigations, as investigations do, dragged on, and Soma brought these, somewhat ambitious, proceedings to get an order telling the SFO to stop them.
As you may have guessed, the claim failed, though, as we will see, it may have achieved rather different benefits.
The judgment of the Administrative Court is a concise account of when the private challenger can and cannot seek orders in respect of investigations and prosecutions – whether to stop or start them. Here Soma wanted to stop the investigation. In other circumstances, a victim may want the authorities to start an investigation or prosecution into another party: see, e.g. Chaudhry, decided earlier this week.
R (o.t.a. CPRE Kent) v. Dover District Council  EWCA Civ 936, 14 September 2016, read judgment
The Court of Appeal has just given us a robust vindication of the importance of giving proper reasons when granting planning permission, by way of a healthy antidote to any suggestion that this is not really needed as part of fairness.
It is, as we shall see, very context-specific, and Laws LJ, giving the main judgment, was careful not to give the green light to floods of reasons challenges – common enough as they are in planning judicial reviews. Nonetheless it is a decision of significance.
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 (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.
Fish Legal v Information Commissioner and others (Information rights practice and procedure)  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 →
R (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.
R (o.t.a Joicey) v. Northumberland County Council , 7 November 2014, Cranston J read judgment
An interesting decision about a Council not supplying some key information about a wind turbine project to the public until very late in the day. Can an objector apply to set the grant of permission aside? Answer: yes, unless the Council can show that it would have inevitably have come to the same conclusion, even if the information had been made public earlier.
Mr Barber, a farmer, wanted to put up one turbine (47m to tip) on his land. The claimant was an objector, another farmer who lives 4km away, and who campaigns about subsidies for renewables – it is him in the pic. The planning application was complicated by the fact that an application for 6 turbines at Barmoor nearby had already been approved (where Mr Joicey is standing), and the rules on noise from wind turbines looks at the total noise affecting local people, not just from Mr Barber’s turbine.
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.