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Environment lawyer welcomes expected UN criticism of access to environmental justice

The lawyer representing three environmental NGOs who are fighting to overturn new rules regarding costs in environmental cases has welcomed reports that the UN is due to criticise the UK government over the new rules.

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8 August 2017

It has been reported by the Law Society Gazette that the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe plans to criticise the new rules brought in by the UK government at a meeting next month.
 
Leigh Day are currently representing three environmental NGOs who are fighting to overturn the new rules implemented in February, which they claim will have a chilling effect on bringing environmental challenges against the government.
 
The NGOs’ case for judicial review was heard in the High Court on Wednesday 19 July 2017 and the judgment on the matter was reserved to be given at a later date.
 
The three NGOs bringing the judicial review, represented by law firm Leigh Day, are the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth.
 
The previous rules for environmental cases were based on the Aarhus Convention, an international agreement which gives citizens certain rights regarding access to justice in environmental matters. They provided certainty for claimants in environmental cases, by limiting their cost exposure to no more than £5,000 (if they were an individual) or £10,000 (if they were an organisation) should they lose the case.
 
The new legislation implemented in the UK in February (under rule 8(5) of the Civil Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2017/95) allows any party to the case to apply to the court for the default cap to be varied at any point during the case. In addition, under the new rules hearings on setting a different costs cap level, which will discuss the resources of a claimant, are not required to be heard in private.
 
The UN committee is expected to express concerns about the UK government moving away from the terms of the convention and is expected to urge the government to ensure that court costs on cases subject to the Aarhus Convention are not ‘prohibitively expensive’.
 
Rowan Smith, solicitor at Leigh Day, said:

“First the EU Commission’s Directorate-General for the Environment expresses concerns about the changes, and now the UN appears also to be critical the lack of certainty the new rules provide. When will the UK government face up to its mistake and reverse such a damaging situation for access to environmental justice?”

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