A high court challenge to the government’s controversial plan for a third runway at Heathrow could be opened up to a mass audience through livestreaming for the first time if judges accept a legal argument.
Although the supreme court has transmitted its hearings since 2009, photography and recording of court proceedings elsewhere are strictly controlled by the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which only permits cases in the court of appeal to be broadcast.
Tim Crosland, a barrister who is the director of the anti-climate change charity Plan B, will tell a preliminary hearing on 5 February that livestreaming from the high court would not involve recording or creating a permanent record and was therefore permissible under the legislation.
The expansion of Heathrow by adding a third runway has been in dispute for almost two decades, with the government giving the plan the go ahead in June 2018, arguing that it is needed to enable the economy to prosper.
The judicial review due to begin on 11 March rolls up a series of legal challenges. Plan B and Friends of the Earth will argue that the increased carbon emissions from the planes are incompatible with the UK’s responsibilities to tackle climate change.
Local councils are concerned about the increased noise and air pollution for residents.
If built, the runway is expected to cost its developers £14bn and could be completed by 2026. However, taxpayers may have to fund major upgrades to the roads around the airport.
Two judges, Lord Justice Hickinbottom and Mr Justice Holgate, have agreed to hear the preliminary Plan B application on Tuesday. None of the parties in the case have objected to livestreaming and the Department of Transport is said to be neutral on the issue. The hearing is unlikely to raise privacy issues.
Crosland said he believed that the more people who listened to the detail of the arguments, the more engaged they would become in environmental concerns. He cited the example of the Urgenda trial in the Netherlandswhich, he believes, made a significant difference to media and public understanding of climate change.
“There’s nothing in law about livestreaming,” Crosland said. “The act only bans photography and recording. Friends of the Earth are supporting us in this application.
“No one wants to be in a position to say the public can’t watch because this is an important case. The [high court judge] has said that this case could have major implications.”
Fewer than 50 people are likely to be able to fit into the courtroom. Crosland pointed out that for popular hearings in the past, a video screen had been set up in a neighbouring courtroom to livestream proceedings to people who could not fit into the main one.
If the high court has the legal powers to do that, he will argue, livestreaming proceedings online is only a difference in scale rather than in principle. If the high court bans web livestreaming, then it should also stop courtroom to courtroom livestreaming.