Photo of man on park bench for story saying environmental justice case fast-tracked as UK government mounts attack on legal rights

Court costs’ case fast-tracked as UK government mounts attack on legal rights

A High Court judge has agreed that ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth and the RSPB’s challenge against the government over new environmental justice rules should be heard in court.

Mr Justice Dove fast-tracked the case, because the rules are already having an impact. He also granted a total cost cap of £10,000 for the three charities combined.

ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth and the RSPB launched the case because the UK government has introduced new rules which make it almost impossible to bring an environmental case in the public interest.

These rules hugely increase financial uncertainty for people and groups bringing a case like ClientEarth’s challenge to the UK government over air pollution. They could also force claimants to lay bare their personal finances in open court, plus the finances of any donors supporting the case.

This would have a massive chilling effect on cases brought to protect people and the environment.

ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton said: “People must be able to go to court to defend their environment. The government’s new rules cynically undermine this right. By fast-tracking our case and protecting us from debilitating legal costs, the judge has clearly signalled the importance of our challenge to the government.

“These new rules are a disaster for the environment. Faced with the risk of almost unlimited costs, who would put their finances, maybe even their house, on the line? People and charities need financial certainty before they bring a case to protect people and the planet. After Brexit, this will become even more important, because the EU won’t be able to hold our government to account.”

The government now has 21 days – instead of the usual 35 – to file its defence. After this 11th May deadline, ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth and the RSPB have seven days to reply, then a hearing date will be set. We expect it to take place in around six months.

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Matt Jones