The UK is to be criticised by a United Nations body over its failure to comply with rules ensuring access to justice in judicial reviews over environmental matters, the Gazette can reveal.
The rules, adopted to comply with the 1998 Aarhus Convention, require states to provide procedures that are ‘fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive’. In his review of fixed recoverable costs last week, Lord Justice Jackson calls for their adoption across the spectrum of judicial review.
However, a meeting next month of the UN Economic Commission for Europe is expected to lambast the UK for apparently moving away from its terms. A draft decision ‘expresses concern at the overall slow progress’ of the UK in establishing a costs system fulfilling its treaty obligations.
Concerns centre on amendments to the Civil Procedure Rules introduced earlier this year which allow judges to vary cost caps required by the convention. The draft decision requests the UK ‘to, as a matter of urgency, take the necessary legislative, regulatory, administrative and practical measures to ensure that the allocation of costs in all court procedures [subject to the convention] is fair and equitable and not prohibitively expensive’.
Environmental groups have already challenged the amended rules in the High Court. A ruling is expected shortly. Gillian Lobo, a lawyer at activist firm ClientEarth, said: ‘The UK is breaching its responsibility under international law by failing to provide access to justice in environmental cases. It has been in breach for years, and recent reforms have made it even harder to go to court over issues like dirty air, polluting factories or endangered wildlife.’
The Ministry of Justice referred the Gazette to a statement by former justice minister Sir Oliver Heald that the new costs regime ‘allows meritorious claims to be brought without prohibitive expense’.