3 August 2017
A new UN report has criticised the UK’s record on court access for people bringing environmental cases.
The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee said the UK’s recent law reforms have ‘moved it further away’ from fulfilling its duty to let citizens go to court to protect their environment. It also reprimanded the UK for slow progress to date. The UK has not only dragged its feet, its compliance is actually now worse thanks to new court rules introduced in February this year.
ClientEarth lawyer Gillian Lobo said: “This report confirms that the UK is breaching its responsibility under international law, the Aarhus Convention, by failing to provide access to justice in environmental cases. It has been in breach for years, and recent reforms have made it even harder to go to court over issues like dirty air, polluting factories or endangered wildlife. The UK must act now to let people use the courts to protect their environment.”
The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee first found the UK’s costs to be prohibitively expensive in 2014, after a complaint brought by ClientEarth, the Marine Conservation Society and Robert Latimer.
ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth and the RSPB took the UK government to court on 19 July 2017 over the new rules, which will have a chilling effect on environment legal cases. Since February this year, some legal costs can now can be changed at any stage in the proceedings. This means it is impossible to know how much a case will cost from the start, which is likely to deter people who want to go to court to protect the environment.
The campaigners call on the UK government to ensure environmental cases are not prohibitively expensive, and to remove or reduce financial and other barriers to justice.
The judgment is expected this month.