22 September 2017
Judge rules in favour of environmentalists in legal costs dispute
Activists have been dealt a victory at the High Court, as a judge ruled in their favour in a dispute over removing a costs cap in environmental disputes.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Friends of the Earth Limited and Client Earth oppose the Government's interpretation that cases brought to court under the UN Aarhus Convention can have their costs cap varied or removed.
The UN Aarhus Convention came into force on February 28, 2017, to replace mandatory fixed costs introduced in 2013. The law requires claimants to disclose their financial means in disputes over costs.
The collective has asserted that removing the cap will expose conservational groups to ruinous cost bills and halt action to tackle environmental issues.
A judgment by Mr Justice Dove in the Planning Court, states cost-cap hearings should be held in private.
He has also urged for further clarification on the new rules.
In a joint statement, RSPB, Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth have called the verdict an "important victory".
It reads: "People who bravely stand up for nature by going to court can now do so in the knowledge that, once the costs are fixed, they will not be blind-sided by a crippling legal bill they were not expecting and hadn't budgeted for."
Despite the Government's interpretation of the law being left in tatters, the Ministry of Justice said after the decision: "We are pleased that the High Court supports our approach to environmental costs protection, which ensures individuals are not expected to pay above their means. We will address the issue of private hearings and set out our position in due course."