Legal action launched over impact of new costs rules on environmental claims

Three non-governmental organisations have launched legal proceedings over new costs rules that came into force this week amid claims the reforms could make it "virtually impossible” to bring a public interest case to protect the environment.

Under the Ministry of Justice’s new rules, claimants will have to provide the court with information about their personal finances when applying for judicial review.

ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth and RSPB said this information could be used by the court or the defendant to argue that the costs cap could be increased – “or even removed altogether” – at any stage in the proceedings.

“This makes it impossible for people to know how much a case will cost from the start and could force them to withdraw proceedings – but not before being exposed to very high costs,” they argued.

The claimants also suggest that with judges able to increase the costs cap at any stage, it would be impossible to know how much a case would cost from the start.

The current rules cap the costs that individuals, community groups and environmental groups have to pay on losing a case against a public body. These caps are currently £5,000 for individuals and £10,000 in all other cases.

In a joint statement, ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth, and the RSPB said: “Charities and NGOs are the main way people can mount an effective challenge to government decisions. We represent lots of concerned individuals who have chosen to pool their resources with us so we can defend nature on their behalf. We are an alliance of thousands of individual citizens who would otherwise lack the means and resources to take an issue to court. Access to justice, on equal terms, is everyone’s right.”

A UN committee recently claimed that the Government was yet to fulfil its legal commitments as a signatory to the Aarhus Convention.


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