ClientEarth action means UK government will face 3rd court hearing – before February – over UK air pollution



UK government will face court hearing over toxic pollution

A judge has ordered a High Court hearing in ClientEarth’s latest case against the UK Government over illegal and harmful levels of air pollution in the country.

Reflecting the urgency of the situation, Mr Justice Nicklin has expedited the case and it will be heard in the High Court before 23rd February next year.

This will be the third such case against the government. After ClientEarth’s victories in the previous two, the Court ordered ministers to produce new plans to bring air pollution to within legal levels as soon as possible.

This third case challenges elements of the court-ordered plan produced by ministers after ClientEarth’s second case in 2016.

ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “We’re not surprised that the judge has ruled that the government has a case to answer here. The current plans are too weak and too vague and mean that we will still be choking on illegal levels of pollution for years to come.

“The government’s persistent failure to deal with air pollution in this country is nothing short of a scandal.”

The grounds in ClientEarth’s case are:

  1. The latest plan backtracks on previous commitments to order 5 cities to introduce clean air zones by 2020;
  2. The plan does not require any action in 45 local authorities in England, despite them having illegal levels of air pollution.
  3. The plan does not require any action by Wales to bring down air pollution as quickly as possible.

ClientEarth is seeking a court order which will force the government to take additional actions to rectify the flaws in the current air quality plan, with a clear timetable for consultation and implementation of those measures and estimates of their effect on air quality. The current plan would remain in force to avoid any delay in its implementation.

ClientEarth understands that Leicester City Council and Oxford City Council have written to the government raising doubts about the plans. These include claims that the government has seriously underestimated pollution levels in their cities and excluded them from access to essential support to fight the problem.

Thornton added: “The government has identified at least 80 local authorities with illegal and harmful levels of air pollution but more than half of them are not being required to take action.

“We have made progress with the government, which before we started our legal case was doing nothing, but air pollution has a serious effect on people’s health, the environment and the economy and more must be done.

“The solutions to this problem are obvious. We need a national network of clean air zones to keep the dirtiest vehicles out of the most polluted towns and cities alongside action to help people switch to cleaner transport. The government must finally show leadership and commit to taking action.”

Related articles



See earlier:

Government set to face fresh legal challenge from ClientEarth for inaction in cutting air pollution

Environmental lawyers, ClientEarth, are set to take the government back to court over what they say are ministers’ repeated failings to deal with the UK’s air pollution crisis. ClientEarth has already won two court battles against the government. It has has written a legal letter demanding that the environment secretary Michael Gove sets out a range of new measures to address UK air pollution. If the government fails to comply with this “letter before action”, ClientEarth will issue new proceedings and ministers are likely to face a third judicial review. The courts forced the government to produce its latest air quality plan in July but the document was widely criticised as inadequate by environmentalists and clean air campaigners. The government’s proposal had “simply passed the buck to local authorities who will have little option but to impose charges on diesel vehicles”. Better action by the government itself is needed, such as changes to the tax system to favour less polluting vehicles; a targeted diesel scrappage scheme and a “clean air fund” to help local authorities tackle pollution.  In 2016 some 278 of the 391 local authorities (71%) missed their air quality targets, up from 258 in 2010 even though measures to reduce pollution are meant to be taken “in the shortest possible time”.



Client Earth taking UK government back to court for 3rd time over inadequate air pollution plans

Environmental lawyers who have defeated ministers twice, on UK air pollution improvements, are going back to court to try to remove ‘major flaws’ from government’s air quality plans. Environmental lawyers, Client Earth, are taking the government to the high court for a 3rd time. They have inflicted two humiliating defeats on the government over previous plans, which the court ruled did not meet legal requirements. ClientEarth had requested improvements to the latest plan (published on 5th May) from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) but were refused, prompting the new court action. James Thornton, chief executive of Client Earth, said: “The law requires the final plan to bring air pollution down to legal levels in the shortest time possible. These flaws seriously jeopardise that timetable. These are plans for more plans, what we need are plans for action.” Client Earth says the most effective way to reduce NO2 pollution is by discouraging polluting vehicles from entering cities and towns. However, the DEFRA consultation states that charging zones should only be the option of last resort, after measures such as removing speed bumps and encouraging cycling have been tried. However, those measures would have insufficient effect. Government is reluctant to penalise drivers of diesel vehicles, who bought them in good faith.


ClientEarth takes government back to court over the inadequate plan it produced in December

Environmental lawyers, ClientEarth, have launched a new legal challenge against the UK government due to its repeated failure to tackle illegal air pollution. In this latest round of legal action, ClientEarth has lodged papers at the High Court in London seeking judicial review and will serve papers on government lawyers shortly.  As well as the UK Environment Secretary who is named as the defendant, Scottish and Welsh ministers, the Mayor of London and the DfT will also be served with papers as interested parties in the case. ClientEarth believes the government is in breach of a Supreme Court order to clean up air quality.  The Supreme Court ordered DEFRA to produce new air quality plans to bring air pollution down to legal levels in the “shortest possible time”. But the plans the government came up with, released on 17 December 2015, wouldn’t bring the UK within legal air pollution limits until 2025. The original, legally binding deadline passed in 2010. The papers lodged with the High Court ask judges to strike down those plans, order new ones and intervene to make sure the government acts. ClientEarth said: “As the government can’t be trusted to deal with toxic air pollution, we are asking the court to supervise it and make sure it is taking action.”  ClientEarth are launching a fundraising campaign to help fund this work. #NO2DIRTYAIR