What price environmental justice?
In 2010 it was found that high legal costs are barriers to environmental justice in the UK. Elisabeth Jeffries asks if there is a solution.
The UK is in breach of its obligations under the Aarhus Convention on access to environmental justice, declared the committee overseeing compliance last year.
The high cost of legal processes in the UK places unreasonable financial risks on citizens seeking to legally challenge activities with an environmental impact, said the Aarhus Convention compliancecommittee in its draft report on a case brought by the NGO ClientEarth, concerning the dumping of toxic material in the North Sea.
Following the compliance committee’s findings, ClientEarth called on the government to fundamentally change the way the UK legal system operates to allow citizens’ access to environmental justice.
It claims that the existing cost rules often force claimants to cover their opponents’ legal fees, as well as their own and the court’s costs, with a single-day hearing costing more than £100,000.
Few individuals or public-interest groups have the resources to risk being landed with a bill of this size, says ClientEarth.
The government counters by saying there are measures in place that allow a court to restrict the costs a claimant will be forced to pay where the case may be of genuine public interest.