New rules that came into force this week that will make it harder to bring environmental protection cases to court. This decision by the Conservative government could have devastating long term consequences for the environment. It comes at a time when many are questioning whether environmental protection in the UK is at risk following the Brexit vote and our subsequent withdrawal from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as the final arbiter in such cases.
The government has removed “Cost Caps” that limit the amount of money an individual, or organisation, has to pay out after losing a public interest court case. This creates a huge financial barrier to anyone wishing to take legal action on environmental issues and reduces the ability of the public to hold its government to account.
The cost cap limited payments to £5000 for individuals and £10,000 for organisations. Their removal means that anyone bringing an environmental challenge now faces unknown legal fees before starting the process. Individuals may now have to gamble with their homes, and charities could face bills of hundreds of thousands of pounds, in order to seek justice.
Many organisations, including Friends of the Earth, and the RSPB have joined together to condemn this decision.
ClientEarth, an Environmental Law Charity said:
“The new rules spell disaster for the environment. With no certainty on costs, who will put their finances, perhaps even their house, at risk to bring a case? Individuals and campaigners need financial certainty before they bring a case in the public interest. After Brexit, this will become even more important, because the EU won’t be there to make sure our government is following its own environmental laws.”
ClientEarth has teamed up with the RSPB and Friends of the Earth to apply for permission to question the new rules in court, stating: “Access to justice, on equal terms, is everyone’s right.”
Paul Brannen MEP said:
“There are many examples in the UK where pollution would have continued if there had been no intervention to refer cases to the European Court of Justice. As this environmental shield is going to be lost it is vital that the government ensures the highest protections are in place when we leave the EU. These changes do not bode well for the future of the environment and I call on the government to address this immediately.”