Press release

EU court reprimands EU Council for withholding legal advice in win for ClientEarth

13 March 2024

In a win for participatory democracy, the General Court of the EU ruled that the Council must make the opinions of its legal service on EU legislation public, following joined cases brought by environmental NGO ClientEarth and Professor Päivi Leino-Sandberg of Helsinki University.

ClientEarth lawyers have applauded the court ruling today, as it clarifies that people have the right to access the information they need to participate in EU legislative processes – even if they derive from an international agreement.

ClientEarth challenged the EU Council in 2021 after it refused to provide the opinion of its legal services on the revision of the Aarhus regulation on access to justice in environmental matters.

The Council argued that this information was linked with an international negotiation on access to justice – the Meeting of the Parties of the Aarhus Convention – and should remain confidential.  However, the Court disagreed, confirming that the public have a right to access legal opinions on EU legislation. The fact there is a link to ongoing international negotiations is insufficient to justify secrecy.

ClientEarth senior lawyer and Head of Just Societies Anne Friel said:

“This ruling clearly confirms that the EU legislative process has to be transparent and participative, and the Council’s legal opinions are no exception.

“We live in an era of multi-layered and globalised governance. A large part of EU laws derive from international laws and processes – from environmental treaties to the World Trade Organisation and other trade agreements – and they have big impacts on people’s lives, their health and the environment.

“The EU cannot simply opt out of transparent law-making every time international relations are engaged.

“This approach is preventing members of the public from participating in these crucial decisions, a right that is enshrined in the EU Treaties.

“The EU Council must now abide by this ruling and increase transparency in all its legislative processes, particularly those that affect the environment – this is crucial for a healthy democracy and a healthy planet.”


Notes to editors:

In 2021, ClientEarth requested access to the opinion of the EU Council’s Legal Service in relation to the European Commission proposal for a Regulation amending the Aarhus Regulation (Regulation 1367/2006) on access to justice in environmental matters.

This proposed reform was triggered by a complaint submitted by ClientEarth at the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC) – a United Nations body – which concluded in 2017 that the EU was not in full compliance with the implementation of the Aarhus Convention at EU level, especially in relation to the access to justice provisions.

After these findings, ClientEarth advocated for an ambitious reform of access to justice at EU level. The Council’s legal opinion was a very important document in the legislative process, as one of the main questions being considered by decision-makers at the time was whether the EU legal order allowed for full compliance with the ACCC’s findings.

The Aarhus Regulation was finally amended in October 2021, opening the possibility for members of the public and civil society organisations to challenge EU environmental decisions in court.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.