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ClientEarth Communications

11th March 2019

Rule of law
Air pollution

United Nations criticises UK’s access to justice failure

The UK’s failure to comply with its international legal obligations in allowing the public to bring legal cases to protect the environment has been criticised in a damning United Nations report.

ClientEarth lawyers are calling on the UK to take its international legal obligations seriously after the UN’s committee that enforces the Aarhus Convention delivered a harsh reprimand to the UK government.

The UK has been in breach of the Aarhus Convention, an international agreement that gives the public certain rights with regard to the environment since it came into force eight years ago. This has made it harder for people to bring cases over pollution and endangered biodiversity – with prohibitive costs being a major factor.

The committee’s latest progress report stated that the government was failing to engage with the process, noting that much of the UK’s response had been copied “often word for word” from previous reports, and contains incorrect or one-line answers. All of this “significantly hampers” the committee’s ability to assess the UK’s progress.

ClientEarth Global Programmes Counsel Karla Hill said: “It’s deeply concerning that the UK continues to fail in its international responsibilities by allowing prohibitive costs to deter people from bringing environmental cases over issues like dirty air, polluting factories or endangered wildlife.

“The environment cannot protect itself and those that choose to take legal action should not have to worry about risking their financial security for standing up for the common good.

“This stinging rebuke from the United Nations shows that the UK must take seriously its international legal obligations to enable people to rely on the legal system to protect our shared environment.”

Lawyers noted the committee abandoned its usually diplomatic language, expressing its “disappointment” and “surprise” with the government’s “marked shortcomings”.