Activists win historic ruling on ‘people’s law on the environment’
damage, finds UN Committee
could now make it easier for individuals and NGOs to protect the environment.
because of the unreasonable financial risks of bringing a case to court.
A team of legal activists had brought the case to the UN committee overseeing
this Convention arguing that the UK was in breach and that bad environmental decisions
were not being challenged.
against allegations of toxic waste dumping near the Port of Tyne, Newcastle, because
of fears over the potentially crippling costs of losing the case.
In another example cited by the legal activists, a local resident was faced with
a legal bill of more than £80,000 after challenging permission given to a cement
factory to burn tyres because of health fears over the fumes on the local community.
The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee agreed and said the UK’s legal system
did not, ‘remove or reduce financial barriers to access to justice’. It called
on the UK to ‘undertake practical and legislative measures to overcome the problems’.
A coalition of environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth, WWF and
RSPB, who have been campaigning on the issue welcomed the decision and said the
UK now had ‘no option but to amend the cost rules so people and environmental
groups can go to court to protect the environment.’
The legal activists who brought the case to the UN, ClientEarth, said the decision
was ‘game-changing’ for anyone
‘At the moment, the government and industries can ride roughshod over their environmental
responsibilities, confident that the legal system’s failings will make challenges
‘If the government’s word is to mean anything on the international stage, it
must move effectively and decisively to remedy the gross unfairness of the UK
legal system,’ said CEO ClientEarth James Thornton.
In March, 2010, EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik threatened legal action
if the UK ignored the request.
A review by Lord Justice Jackson earlier this year may go some way, if accepted,
to meeting that request.
people would be aware of their liability for costs beforehand.
In reference to that review, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice admitted
that high costs under the existing legal system had become a ‘serious concern’
and that a consultation would be launched this Autumn to ‘achieve significant
costs savings, whilst still enabling those who need access to justice to obtain
considering the Committee’s recently published draft findings along with our comments
for submission to the Committee in order to assist the Committee finalise its
victory for Friends of the Earth and allies.