23 November 2016
New rules in environmental court cases will have a chilling effect on the UK justice system, making it harder to bring cases like ClientEarth's challenge to the UK government over cancer-causing air pollution.
The planned change in rules will increase cost uncertainty for individuals and campaigners going to court to protect the environment. Now, judges will have the ability to increase or decrease cost caps. This introduction of uncertainty is contrary to the Aarhus Convention, an access to justice law which the UK has signed.
ClientEarth lawyer Gillian Lobo said: “This regressive step takes the UK even further from honouring the commitment it made when it signed the UN Aarhus Convention.
"These new plans make it even harder for people to bring environmental cases, by increasing uncertainty around costs and making the procedure ever more complex.”
The definition of an Aarhus claim has also been altered. Now, it will cover statutory reviews in environmental cases that fall under Article (2) of the Aarhus Convention, namely appeals against planning decisions. It does not extend to the full range of claims that come under Article 9(3). This would include decisions to change land use in a national park, the location of solar energy developments, and private nuisance claims.
This means the UK will continue to be in breach of access to justice international obligations.
People bringing environmental court cases will also have to provide more financial information, making an already arduous process even more difficult.