One of the first cases to be heard in the UK’s newest court is to revolve around a European convention ensuring affordable access to justice for members of the public on environmental matters.
The new Planning Court for England and Wales, which came into being last week, is to consider judicial review proceedings lodged at the High Court by residents of the London Borough of Ealing. They are contesting the council’s decision to sign over 61 acres of London’s green belt, rent-free for 200 years, to Queens Park Rangers FC.
Solicitor Rheian Davies of London firm DH Law, acting for the residents, said her clients are seeking a protective costs order (PCO) so that they can afford to compete against ‘the wealth of QPR on a level playing field’.
She said: ‘QPR has argued against a PCO, but we are going to invoke the Aarhus Convention, which requires the UK, and other EU member states, to keep the cost of environmental litigation to an affordable level.’
The UK ratified the Aarhus Convention in 2005, but as recently as February was taken to the Court of Justice of the European Union for non-compliance. The court found that environmental litigation remained prohibitively expensive in the UK.
The planning court, based at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, is expected to handle 400 cases a year.
The Ministry of Justice said the new procedure would allow hearings to be fast-tracked before specialist judges, ‘reducing unnecessary and costly legal delays’.