Emma Montlake

Who? Emma Montlake, co-executive director at the Environmental Law Foundation, London.

Why is she in the news? Environmental Law Foundation was permitted to intervene in the Supreme Court case of The Manchester Ship Canal Company Ltd v United Utilities Water Ltd. Judgment was handed down on 2 July, allowing the canal company’s appeal over discharges of sewage into the waterway.

Thoughts on the case? ‘The judgment is groundbreaking. It has the potential to be a game-changer for communities, allowing private law nuisance or trespass claims for illegal sewage spills. Our water environments have been regularly polluted with untreated sewage, the biodiversity of our rivers and chalk streams denuded with impunity by private water companies.

‘As was said in the unanimous judgment: “Unless the commission of the tort has been authorised by parliament, or common law rights of action have been excluded, the canal company therefore has a cause of action. As we have explained, the [Water Industry Act 1991] does not authorise the commission of such a tort; and it does not exclude a common law right of action”.

‘This is a glad day for environmental justice, not just for the public, but for nature as well.’

Dealing with the media: ‘We have infrequent dealings with the media, so it has been a little overwhelming. But we have had the support of the Good Law Project who supported us with the intervention, which has been useful.’

Why become a lawyer? ‘My dad said I should. All of the Jewish side of the family were lawyers, I didn’t stand a chance.’

Career high: ‘Volunteering at ELF and all that came after, especially being able to assist communities to use the law to protect the nature that they love.’ 

Career low: ‘Resigning myself to a future as a commercial property lawyer (no offence to colleagues who have chosen that path).’