Under the UN-ratified Aarhus Convention governments must ensure legal costs for those wanting to fight for environmental rights in the courtroom do not represent an ‘unreasonable risk’.

But the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee ruled this week the UK is not giving people sufficient access to justice.

James Thornton, chief executive of Client Earth, a law firm focusing on environmental cases, said: “Today’s findings are game-changing for anyone fighting for their environmental rights.

“At the moment, the government and industries can ride roughshod over their environmental responsibilities, confident that the legal system’s failings will make challenges impossible.

“If the government’s word is to mean anything on the international stage, it must move effectively and decisively to remedy the gross unfairness of the UK legal system.

“For the first time citizens will be able to scrutinise and challenge environmental decisions from a fair position.”

The conventions do not cover those who have caused criminal damage or trespassed to highlight their cause.

Client Earth has called for a tribunal highlighting how the UK is out of step with the rest of Europe when it comes to giving citizens access to environmental justice.

Current cost rules in the UK mean claimants are often forced to cover their opponents’ legal fees together with their own and court costs.

A single-day hearing in the UK courts can cost more than £100,000 and few individuals or public interest groups have the resources to stand such a hefty bill.

David Gibbs

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