In 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.
Many 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 ofArticle 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.
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v. Venn, Court of Appeal, 27 November 2014 – read judgment
Back to Aarhus and the constant problem we have in the UK making sure that the cost of planning and environmental litigation is not prohibitively expensive.
Article 9 of the Aarhus Convention (to which the EU has subscribed) 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”. If this means nothing to you, you might want to limber up with my bluffers guide to Aarhus – here -not least on how to pronounce it and how it fits into domestic law.
Ms Venn wanted to stop the owner of land next door to her London property “garden-grabbing”, namely building another dwelling in his garden. The local authority had refused permission, the landowner successfully appealed to a planning inspector, and on further review, Ms Venn said that the inspector had failed to have regard to emerging planning policy in determining the appeal against her.
Lang J gave Ms Venn a protective costs order (PCO), limiting her costs exposure to £3,500 if she lost. The CA reversed this. As ever, the devil is in the detail. Had her appeal been by way of judicial review, she would have got an order in her favour. So why didn’t she?
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 →
Commission v. UK, Opinion of Advocate-General Kokott, 12 September 2013 read opinion here
Forgive me for returning to this case, but it raises all sorts of questions. On the face of it, it concerns 2 specific environmental directives, but it has implications for costs generally in environmental cases.
And why do I go on about costs? Because the prospect of being seriously out of pocket deters even the most altruistic environmentalist if they lose. Some may be purely NIMBYs, but most have a rather wider sense of the things that matter and that is not just about protecting their own assets. Claimants are normally up against public authorities and/or developers, so the balance of power has to be struck in the right place between them.
“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.
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.