UN committee tells UK government to reverse court changes
The compliance committee for the UN Aarhus Convention – to which the UK is a signatory – has concluded in its latest report that recent government changes to court costs in environmental legal cases further remove the UK from compliance with its international obligations.
The changes introduced in February have affected the financial protection claimants receive from the court when they challenge decisions (judicial review) by public authorities affecting the environment. The new rules create major uncertainty for claimants by allowing this cost cap/limit to potentially change multiple times, all the way to trial. Under the old rules it was a fixed amount from the outset.
The new rules also mean individuals have to reveal their own private financial affairs in open court when starting a legal claim in order to be eligible for any costs protection at all. The old rules did not require this.
The report concludes that the government should take the necessary legislative, regulatory, administrative and practical measures to ensure that the allocation of costs in all court procedures is fair and equitable and not prohibitively expensive. This indicates the need for the UK government to make yet further changes to get this right. The report and its conclusions on UK non-compliance will be considered at the next meeting of the parties (signatories) to the Aarhus convention at its meeting in September in Montenegro.
William Rundle, Friends of the Earth lawyer, said:
“These findings are good news for people who care about protecting the environment, but bad news for the Ministry of Justice. The committee has reached strong conclusions that not only are the changes unfair and can limit access to justice, they go against our international obligations. Having challenged these rules at court earlier in the year, we currently await the High Court’s view as to whether or not they are unlawful under national law and should be set aside.”
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