The UK Government has been ordered by the UK High Court to publish new plans to address air pollution. The High Court rejected attempts by the ministers to withhold policy plans until after the impending general election.
Last November, the environmental group ClientEarth took legal action against the ministers over their failure to take necessary measures to reduce air pollution. ClientEarth had argued that the government’s failure to tackle air pollution issues put them in breach of EU law and domestic regulations. The Court found for ClientEarth, stating that the Government’s original plans were so poor as to be unlawful. April 24th at 4pm was the deadline given by the Judge for the Government to come up with a new draft policy to tackle air pollution from diesel traffic.
The latest High Court judgement came following the ministers’ application to the court to keep their plans classified until after the general election, claiming it was necessary to “comply with pre-election propriety rules”. James Eadie QC, representing the Government, said the new policy was ready to be published however it would be controversial and should therefore be withheld until after the election. He argued that “If you publish a draft plan, it drops all the issues of controversy into the election … like dropping a controversial bomb”. The Court however held that the threat to public health constituted “exceptional circumstances”, which meant purdah guidelines in the run up to a general election could be waived, “Immediate publication [of the policy] is essential”.
The Court ordered ministers to publish their new draft plan within two weeks on 9 May which would be after the local elections on 4 May. The Court held that the Government must comply with the original court order and release their final policy on tackling the air crisis by 31 July. The Judge stated that, “In November 2016, I found the Secretary of State was in breach of directives and regulations. The Secretary of State remains in breach. She is obliged to comply as soon as possible.” The Judge stated that, “These steps are necessary in order to safeguard public health”. The Court concluded that “the continued failure of the government to comply with directives and regulations constitutes a significant threat to public health.”
Click here for a Bulletin article on the previous ClientEarth action.