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Reform of legal costs needed to protect the environment better

May 09, 2008

Further information
Vicki Elcoate

A call to reform the system of legal costs in environmental cases has been welcomed by the UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA).

The reforms would mean that people who bring a challenge through the courts – for example to a proposed development – would have a reduced risk of being faced with paying the costs of the other side, running into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The independent Working Group on Access to Justice in Environmental Matters reviewed a whole range of issues for its report, published today (May 9th) . It pinpointed one key problem which the government needs to tackle: removing the threat of a huge bill for people who bring legal challenges in environmental cases.

At the moment only people on very low incomes and entitled to Legal Aid, or people so well off that cost is not an issue, can consider challenges without facing a worrying risk. Those in the middle may not only have to pay their own costs but also those of the other side, if they lose. For environmental groups or community organisations, this often proves a barrier to any kind of action.

The report recommends introducing various safeguards so that the risk is reduced. The Government has signed up to the Aarhus Convention, which means that access to the courts in environmental cases should not be prohibitively expensive.

“There is a danger that the Government will be seen to be failing on this international agreement if it does not consider reform”, said Daniel Lawrence, chairman of UKELA. “This is a thorough report, which includes a comparison of how things works across Europe, and the UK seems to be lagging behind”.

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Notes to the editors:

The Working Group was chaired by Hon Mr Justice Sullivan and membership included lawyers in private practice, NGOs and regulatory bodies.

The report, “Ensuring Access to Environmental Justice in England and Wales”, is being published at 2pm on May 9th at Kings College, the Strand, London, at a seminar jointly organised by UKELA and Kings College and chaired by Lord Justice Carnwath. Advance copies are available but the report is embargoed until 0001 May 9th.

Any journalists who want to attend the launch should contact alisonboyd.ukela@ntlbusiness.com or ring 01306 500090.

UK Environmental Law Association - Better law for the environment
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