Supreme Court orders UK government to comply with EU pollution directive

The UK Supreme Court has ordered the UK government to deal with the country’s air pollution problem and publish a report on it by the end of this year.

Air pollution in the UK has contravened EU limits for years and has been linked to thousands of deaths.

Cities including London and Glasgow have consistently failed to satisfy EU nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels over the past five years under EU air quality rules – Directive 2008/50/EC – making the UK liable for a fine from Brussels and resulting in NGO ClientEarth’s legal challenge against the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs.

President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, sitting with Lord Mance, Lord Clarke, Lord Sumption and Lord Carnwath unanimously ruled in favour of ClientEarth, ordering the next environment secretary to produce plans to comply with EU rules by the end of this year.

The Supreme Court referred certain questions relating to the interpretation of articles 13, 22 and 23 of the Directive to the European Court of Justice in 2013 which it answered in a judgment from 14 November 2014 (C-404/13).

This case considered what further orders were to be made by the Supreme Court.

Lord Carnwath gave the judgment (UKSC_2012_0179_Judgment (amalgamated)), he said: “The CJEU judgment leaves no doubt as the seriousness of the breach, which has been continuing for more than five years, nor as to the responsibility on the national court to secure compliance. Further, during those five years the prospects of early compliance have become worse (2014 projections predicting non-compliance in some zones after 2030). The Secretary of State accepted that a new plan has to be prepared. The new government should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action, which is achieved by an order that new plans must be delivered to the Commission not later than 31 December 2015.”

The NGO’s lawyer, Alan Andrews, said: “Air pollution kills tens of thousands of people in this country every year. We brought our case because we have a right to breathe clean air and today the supreme court has upheld that right.”

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